Aviation In Canada

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Flight Following Anyone? Part 1

In October of 2002, I was working the sector which covers southwestern New Brunswick in the evening hours, just ahead of dusk. A PA-28 Cherokee had departed Fredericton, NB (CYFC), VFR enroute to Halifax, NS (CYHZ). Cruising at 5,500, he decided to call for flight following and was radar identified. About half an hour or so after departure, the flight was approaching Greenwood MTCA's airspace, and under normal circumstances I would have handed a flight on his track to Greenwood, since at his altitude on the frequency I was using, communications are often sketchy but Greenwood would be able to work him no problem. I'm still not sure why I didn't.

In the middle of a steady, but not really busy, flow of traffic, I heard through a readback of a clearance on a different frequency one of my aircraft, "declaring an emergency." I managed to pick out who it was but not the nature.

November Bravo Oscar, I heard you're declaring an emergency, but I didn't catch the nature of it.

This is something that I always love. Not the emergency, mind you. Every other pilot on all the frequencies I was working went instantly quiet. No more requests for direct this place, reporting of light chop or anything else. They were smart enough to know that someone was in trouble, and give me a clear and open frequency to hear him. Even though they may not know what frequency this pilot is on and may not hear him themselves, they still know to keep quiet so we can communicate.

The response indicated the seriousness of the situation. The pilot said his engine had failed and he needed a vector to the nearest airport. Most of the fields in the region are private grass or gravel strips, unsuitable for many aircraft types, especially the regular IFR aircraft in the region. As such, they were not indicated on our radar displays. I belted out quickly about Waterville (20 NM south) and Greenwood (22 NM southwest), but knew he wasn't likely to glide 20 NM from his current altitude of 5,300 feet. I knew there was another one nearby and scrambled to find the position of it. Apple River. CCA7.

November Bravo Oscar, there is a small grass strip called Apple River about 5 miles northeast of you, standby for more details...

(more tomorrow...)