Article: Gale Almost Wrecks CF-ARM on Rocky Shores of Hudson Bay

  • Image of Junkers, CF-ARM, at Brandon Avenue Air Base, Winnipeg

    Winter, 2013, Altitude

    The flying career of CF-ARM nearly came to an early end when high winds pushed it onto rocks when it was anchored at Eskimo Point, a tiny trading post on the coast of Hudson Bay, about 180 miles north of Churchill in September, 1932.

    The near loss and recovery of the Junkers JU-52/1M was described in articles published in March and June, 1933, editions of The Bulletin, the publication of Canadian Airways Limited and The Beaver, the journal of the Hudson’s Bay Company, which also operated the trading post at Eskimo Point.

    CF-ARM was sent to Eskimo Point to move several tons of freight to an inland trading post at Padley. CF-ARM was accompanied on the mission by two other Canadian Airways freighters, Junkers W-34, CF-AMZ, and Junkers W-33, CF-AQW. The plan was to complete all the deliveries before freeze-up and by September 13 only one more load remained.

    The article in The Beaver, said “we would draw attention to the fact that these three craft were operating in open tidal waters without docking facilities nearly 200 miles from rail head and on the western shores of a great inland sea, across which, for 600 miles, the north-easterly gales have a clean sweep. Inland lakes were already frozen over, and the low-lying country afforded little shelter from the wind in any direction.”

    Both magazines published the written account of W.J. Buchannan, the pilot of CF-ARM. His narrative begins with a description of the storm that damaged two of the three Junkers. “On September 14, a slight wind was blowing off shore from the southwest, a most unusual direction. At 9 p.m., the wind had veered to the northwest and the barometer began to drop. A wind from the northwest is an on-shore wind which, if the anchors gave, would drive the machines onto the shore…

    At 4 a.m. the intensity of the storm had reached gale force… The land is low-lying and gives the anchorage but little shelter, especially at high tide. We mustered at the shore in the darkness and as we got there the JU-52 broke her anchor chains; the auxiliary anchors were too light to prevent her being blown onto the rocky shore. We boarded the machine with much trouble not unattended by danger, started the engine and taxied to a small shelter about two miles away. The floats were very badly damaged by the pounding on the rocks. They were waterlogged, and only the excessively high wind held the machine up. By the time the JU-52 was beached and tied up, the tide was falling and daylight had come.”

    CF-AMZ was almost lost as well. CF-AQW had been beached the previous day and so was relatively safe until the anchors tethering CF-AMZ broke under the stress of the gale force winds and began to drift. The men on the ground were unable to reach AMZ before the wind pushed it up on the beach where it broke up against, or near, AQW. The men were able to protect AQW from further damage by the windblown pieces of AMZ.

    On September 17, after more than two days, the storm abated enough so that the pilots and crew from all three aircraft could check the damage to CF-ARM two miles away. The day was overcast with a temperature of 40 degrees F, and winds still a stiff 35 miles per hour. Buchanan wrote: “The condition of the floats was such that we entertained no hope of being able to effect even rough repairs. The right float was battered, seventy-five per cent of the under surface being dented, gashed and torn. The step was pushed in. Then in the third compartment from the rear we found a boulder… The situation was indeed hopeless; but, on considering the alternative (i.e., leaving the machine till freeze-up), the only thing to do was to repair the floats somehow.”

    Buchanan continued: “Here was a machine, which with float equipment, weighed approximately five tons, and it was resting on the float which had to be repaired. There were no cranes, derricks, or any facilities with which to lift it… The only feasible solution was to dig a hole among the boulders. Every hole we dug the tide filled in for us, and the water would seep in, tide or no tide. One man was fully occupied baling… while the man in the hole drilled the under surface of the floats to put on patches. A certain amount of material for patching the floats we had with us, but we were fortunate to be able to procure much more locally from the Hudson’s Bay Company.” The Beaver article said, “every spare piece of sheet metal and every bolt that was available in the settlement was used.”

    Enough progress was made on September 17 and 18 to attempt takeoff on September 19. The plan was to have the high tide re-float ARM sufficiently so it could be put to sea. Buchanan and his colleagues rose before dawn and found the floats full of water: “Through the night the patches on the step had leaked… Again holes had to be dug among the boulders and the water baled out while the tide was at its ebb. In the evening, when the tide returned, we found the machine would float, but the floats still held too much water.”

    September 20 was spent in discussion that ultimately ended with a decision to try once more. Buchanan wrote: “As patches had not proved successful, we now decided to cover the two floats with canvas and have the useless patches replaced with sealskin.”

    On the morning of September 21, “we were down before high tide to try to get the machine off. We found it impossible, so between this tide and the evening high tide at 10:30 we dug two trenches 50 feet long, five feet wide and two feet deep to get the machine away safely by the next tide. At 10:30 p.m. (in the darkness) we got the machine afloat… We could not take the machine far out for fear of it sinking; so we towed it along.” They covered the two miles to the Eskimo Point trading post by 1:30 a.m.

    On September 23, Buchanan said that after pumping out the floats and starting the engine “I attempted a flying start, but was unsuccessful, the reason being that on the fall of the previous tide the weight of the machine had made small rips in the canvas on the keel and water leaked in between the two canvas layers… the imprisoned water created a bulge… and the machine would not get on the step… I now decided to take the canvas off and try more patching instead.”

    They were ready to fly in the afternoon of September 24. Buchanan wrote: “We made the machine as light as possible. By this means, and with the help of the high wind, which assisted to bear up the waterlogged craft, we got off, but only just. From evidence of eyewitnesses, we must have taken two tons of water into the air, and judging by the volume that streamed out of our floats for the first half hour of our flight.”

    They flew the 180 miles to Churchill where some further repairs were made before flying 350 miles to The Pas for still more repairs so it could fly to Winnipeg.

    Aircraft Repaired to Fly Years Longer

    What happened to CF-AMZ and CF-AQW, the two aircraft that were with CF-ARM at Eskimo Point?

    CF-AMZ was repaired and stayed in use until 1945, while CF-AQW flew until 1959.

    An article “Art Schade: Bush Pilot,” published in the Summer, 1986, edition of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society Journal, provides more details on what happened to CF-AMZ. (Schade was its pilot, while W.J. Buchanan and E.W. Stull were pilots of CF-ARM and CF-AQW, respectively.)

    According to the article on Schade’s career written by Don and Peggy Thompson, CF-AMZ was “damaged well beyond their ability to repair at such a remote location. However, good fortune smiled on them once more. The tug ‘Ocean Eagle’ happened by on her way to Churchill for the winter.” It was decided that AMZ would return to Churchill via sea “on what might have been the North’s first improvised ‘aircraft carrier.’”

    The captain of the Eagle was unable to bring the tug closer than four miles from shore because of the uncharted and shallow waters at Eskimo Point. And, because the lifeboats on the “Eagle” were too small to carry the damaged Junkers to the tugboat, it was decided to float the airplane on its floats, which turned out to be relatively undamaged. The propeller and wings of AMZ were removed and lashed to the fuselage. An outboard motor attached to the undercarriage propelled the damaged aircraft to the tugboat. This was accomplished without incident and the “Eagle” continued to Churchill.

    In 1945, CF-AMZ was dismantled so its parts could be used on CF-AQW.

    Because there was no specific reference to CF-AQW in the articles in The Beaver and The Bulletin, it is assumed that it flew out of Eskimo Point without incident. In 1959, it crashed on takeoff when its pilot tried unsuccessfully to avoid a power line at Kootenay Lake, British Columbia.

    This article originally appeared in the Winter, 2013 edition of Altitude.

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