Chased By The CO

Chased By The CO

A 400 Squadron Non-Historical Wreckollection
Remote Airfield - Divers, Ontario - 1969
By Carl Mills
Sept. 2016

LCol George Georgas (Col. ret’d) was one of the nicest and most hard working guys that everyone knew.  He tended to push himself and, to those who worked close to him, also knew that every once in a while he got over tired or that his blood sugar got low and he would become a bit cranky.  So it happened once at summer camp at Divers (1969) one evening.  Divers was a remote airfield about a half hours flying time north of North Bay and the squadron was involved as an air requirement for some Army Ranger training. 

He had been somewhere by himself with one of the squadron Otter aircraft and was a bit late in returning to beat the night landing curfew – there were no lights at the remote grass strip.  But then he was the CO and he could bend the rules.  Besides, we were well-equipped with flare pots for just such an inadvertent event.  The Ops. guys and a full ground crew were standing by for his return – they were in the Ops. tent where there was a radio.  North Bay airport tower had been contacted and they had indicated that he was inbound and his ETA was about 20 minutes.

Everyone wanted to ensure that the CO’s return and landing was uneventful and so it was decided to get the flare pots ready.  They were smallish metal canisters with wicks which burned to produce a flicker of light.  They could be distributed beside the edge of a landing area to define, by light, the safe zone.  This allowed the pilot to see the outline of a safe landing area.  However, they needed time to be distributed and ignited and we needed about 20 at each end of the area.

We split into two groups CWO Bill Humphrey took one group to the “landing end” and I took a bunch to mark the end zone.  There were vehicles with headlights to assist.  We assumed that if the CO arrived ahead of our layout completion that he would circle overhead once or twice - wrong.

Humphrey completed his work and then pointed his vehicle headlights down the landing area – which was exactly correct.  They were all set by the time we heard the Otter engine approaching the field.

In the meantime, we were at the far end and we were struggling to get the flare pots lit.  We had headlights pointed up the landing zone – in exactly the wrong direction.  With our heads down, we didn’t notice that the CO was on close final approach for landing and forced to look directly 
into our headlights.  The landing area was grass and must have appeared as a deep and dark hole.  He was blinded by our headlights and, as it turned out, he was also “a bit” cranky.
I finally noticed what was happening and got one set of headlights turned off.  I then tried to cross the grass field to get the other set off but by then the CO was on the ground and rolling toward us.  In the middle of the field, the aircraft crossed paths with me.  From idle power, the aircraft engine roared to life and the machine did a ‘wheely’ toward me.  I thought that perhaps he had not seen me but then I realized that the aircraft was coming in my direction with power on and I started running to avoid.

There was a roar of the engine and I ran down the landing area with the aircraft accelerating behind me.  The aircraft didn’t slow down, I got the impression that there was some kind of pursuit underway, and that I was being chased.  Those who saw the event, in the dark with the aircraft navigation lights flashing and flare pots flicking, said that the aircraft was going fast and they saw the tail wheel off the ground as if for take-off or in anger.
The bright outline of the aircraft’s landing light on the ground in front of me seemed to vibrate and dance as the aircraft’s wheels hit small bumps and shook the wings and the light.  As the aircraft swayed around, my elongated shadow on the ground in front of me also yawed and swayed.  It was violently changing size, shape, and direction just like a scene from a Hitchcock horror movie. 

While I was running, the glare of the aircraft landing light illuminated a wide area in front of me and there were a lot of frightened rabbits crisscrossing in the grass.  There were large glowing eye off to the sides in the darkness and I could see the moon and stars along with the dust and dirt blowing behind the aircraft.

Hundreds of tree-branch shadows ‘grabbed’ at my head and the rabbit shadows appeared the size of lions.  It was a Jurassic cartoon version of an airplane marathon with human participants and animal spectators - Ren and Stimpy would have been impressed.

The CO was temporarily cranked and cranky but he must have felt better after he had parked the aircraft and had shut the engine down.  In the Ops. tent, he was his usual friendly self and profoundly thanked everyone for their overwhelming support and performance during his safe return to the field.  He mentioned that he had seen a lot of rabbits but there was no mention of the high engine performance or anyone running (aka escaping) on the field.
The next morning the ground crew collected the flare pots and they were never used again.  We never went back to Divers and no one ever did a ‘wheely’ in an Otter again.  The descendants of the rabbits are probably still ‘talking’ about the huge birds that chased humans at night for fun.

Written 47 years later while sipping Slivovitz with my 87-year-old mother-in-law (Olga) and my two dogs (Buddy and Honey) in Toronto.