Aviation In Canada

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Another Story about being Lost

One day while I worked the air mic (rather than ground) in Halifax Tower, Halifax FSS (now FIC) called and reported that they were speaking with an aircraft who was relaying for another one who said he was lost. They wanted to know if we could help. The ground controller handed me the phone, and I asked a few questions. The pilot said he was over a body of water surrounded by land which he believed was the Bay of Fundy, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick suggesting about 100nm northwest of CYHZ, heading northeast at 2,500. When I ranged out on the radar, I was disappointed to see not a single target within 125nm of Halifax heading anywhere near northeast. I contacted Halifax Terminal, who is remoted to Moncton Center, since they would have access to more than just the Halifax radar. He saw nothing that could be the aircraft.

We asked him, through radio through his relay pilot, if he could climb, and he agreed to do it. Eventually, a target on 1200 code popped up about 130nm east of Halifax, heading northeast. We asked him to squawk ident, and Halifax radio heard his reply. At this point, we knew he was lost. Turns out, he was over the Bras d'Or lakes in Cape Breton Island. Quite a way off. When we got him turned around and heading toward Halifax, we asked that he try to call Halifax Terminal directly for further. When he called in, we asked him to check his fuel status, and for a C150, given the distance to fly, fuel would be tight. The aircraft belonged to the Debert Flying Club, at the Debert airport about 40nm NE of CYHZ, and about the same flying distance from where the pilot was.

The original aircraft relaying transmissions for us landed at Debert and the pilot told the story there, obviously. This led to a phone call from them to the tower at CYHZ, where I answered. They asked me to tell the pilot to head for Debert, fearing that the pilot would be afraid to take-off again to bring the plane home after landing for fuel. Thinking this was not necessarily a good idea, it was decided between us, in the tower and the terminal control unit, to tell the pilot of the club's request, and recommend that he do what he was most comfortable with, reiterating that his heading was good for Halifax. The pilot asked for a heading to Debert, which was given. Ultimately the plane landed without further incident, though quite low of fuel.

We never heard how the pilot ended up 100nm on the other side of his destination. But this little story goes to prove what has been discussed in recent days about a pilot being able to be very certain of where he is, and yet being so completely wrong. In this case, he could have flown northeast, passing Sydney, his last place to land before heading out over the Cabot Strait between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, possibly believing he was passing over the Northumberland Strait between Nova Scotia and PEI. He hadn't much fuel left, so he wouldn't have to go all that far before passing the point of no return. Once again, knowing who to call, or indeed trying to call anyone, proved invaluable to this pilot's safe return.