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Glider Rescue on the Stewart River, 1948

Arctic & Northern Aviation

The Whitehorse Star

Friday, December 24, 1948

    Six occupants of a crash-landed C-47 transport were snatched to safety from the frozen crust of the Stewart River last Wednesday in a glider-pickup rescue.
    The pilot of the C-45, which dropped and picked up the glider, describe the manoeuvre as exteremely hazarous. The pilot Lt. Col. Eugene Strouse, explained that the curvature of the river, trees and terrain afforded less than a 500-yard straightaway run at 10 feet altitude for the rescue.
    The C-47 made a belly landing on the river in 20 below-zero weather after its radio receiver failed and the plane drifted far off its course. It was returning to Ladd Field here from the Point Barrow area. The pilot said a dwindling gas supply forced him to land.
    Search craft located the plane from a radio fix obtained on its undamaged sening equipment. It was own 15 miles upstream from the Yukon Territory mining camp of McQuesten.
    The C-54 took off on the rescue mission. The glider was cut loose and its pilot circled to a landing within 75-yards of the transport.
    A snatch frame was erected across the river. The C-54 made four passes before contact was made and the men were jerked into the air.
    The glider was towed to Northway and made another landing. There the six rescue fliers were put aboard the C-54 for the rest of the flight to Ladd Field.

This article has been reproduced exactly as it was printed in The Whitehorse Star, with the many spelling and other errors intact.

Ladd Field was in Fairbanks. To say that "the plane drifted far off its course" on a flight from Point Barrow is an understatement - it crashed about 500 miles off course!

The glider used in this rescue was almost certainly a Waco CG-15A, seen in the photo above. More information about these aircraft and their missions can be found in the 7-page pdf document "Austere Recovery of Cargo Gliders". Note that while the rescue described here is mentioned in that document, it says that the rescue was in Alaska - it was summarized thus: "There were two separate arctic rescue operations in December 1948. In Alaska, the pickup of six men from a downed transport was a successful historical footnote." The other Arctic rescue, a much larger operation in Greenland, is well described in an article in the September 2011 edition of Air & Space magazine.

This article is a good example of why I love browsing old newspapers. One little article can open up a whole new section of aviation history that I only vaguely knew existed, and the Yukon is part of it.