Atlin pilot saves four

While most people were barbecuing and drinking beer this long weekend, Jamie Tait was busy rescuing people stranded on the Taku River. "It was just the luck of the draw," said Tait, an Atlin-based helicopter pilot.

While most people were barbecuing and drinking beer this long weekend, Jamie Tait was busy rescuing people stranded on the Taku River.

“It was just the luck of the draw,” said Tait, an Atlin-based helicopter pilot.

On Friday, Tait was making a scheduled pickup of a father and son who were sport fishing on the Nakina River.

As they loaded everything into the helicopter, another group fishing on the river asked Tait if he had heard about a boat coming upriver.

Two friends who were supposed to meet them with a jet boat were almost a day overdue.

No one was too worried yet.

“The weather had been poor, so they thought maybe they had waited,” said Tait.

He put the word out and started to organize a reconnaissance flight.

It wasn’t long before another pilot, Jim Brooks, said that he thought he had seen the boat.

No one had reported it missing yet, but Tait contacted the RCMP and told them that he would make a detour on his way out to a mining camp and take a run down the river.

It was about 9 p.m. when Tait spotted the boat about 100 kilometers from town.

“About a mile below the boat I saw a yellow lifejacket hanging from the trees,” he said. “And shortly after I saw the lifejacket, one of the fellows came out of the trees.”

But he was alone.

“This guy had had a pretty rough ride in the river and used a cooler and stuff to keep himself floating,” said Tait. “He was lucky to be alive.”

The day before, their boat had broken down in a bad stretch of the river.

“Without any power on the boat they couldn’t stay out of the cliff wall and they went in there and it rolled over,” said Tait.

They had an emergency GPS locator but when the boat went over, the device sent out a signal indicating that everything was OK.

When Tait picked the first guy up he said that he had seen his friend pull himself out near the cliffs where they went over.

Sure enough, when they flew back up river they found him.

The pair had spent about 30 hours in the bush.

It wasn’t the best night to be stuck out there, said Tait.

“There’s bear tracks in the sand and it rained pretty good that night,” he said. “The one fellow, the guy that was up on the cliff, he had no way of making a fire.

“It was warm enough the day before, they were both able to get dried out a bit, but it’s pretty exposed and there was easily a 30-knot wind going in the valley.”

It wasn’t just tough physically, but psychologically as well.

“Neither one knew if the other one was alive, so that was a big deal,” said Tait.

Tait flew the pair to the spot on the river where the rest of their party was camped out.

“Everybody got reunited, stories told, and they came into Atlin with me.”

That was only the first rescue flight Tait made that weekend.

The next day, he got called out to pick up two other anglers who crashed their plane in the Taku River when they tried to land on a gravel bar.

That rescue was far less dramatic.

The pair only spent about three hours waiting for help.

“There was an air tour going on to see the Taku River Valley and ice fields and all that, so about 15 airplanes flew overtop of them,” said Tait. “We knew they were there; the only delay in picking them up was we were trying to get it organized through the rescue coordination centre.”

It seems a bad gust of wind forced the plane into the water when the pilot was trying to land, said Tait.

The only thing injured in the crash was their pride, he said.

“They weren’t even banged up. They just didn’t catch any fish,” he said.

While Tait has flown rescue missions before, he’s never had to fly two in one weekend.

“Things just sort of fell together,” he said.

But next weekend he doesn’t expect to be any more restful.

“It’s music fest, so I don’t think it’s going to be any quieter,” he said.

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com