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was a missionary bush pilot in northern Canada when I received
one of the big scares of my life. I was taxiing for takeoff from a
frozen lake in sub-zero weather when the ice gave way beneath
the plane’s skis. I applied power but it was too late.
Water and ice came smashing up over the cowl against the
windshield! I knew I had to get out immediately. I unbuckled the
seat belt, banged the door open, and forced myself out under the
wing into the freezing water.
Climbing onto the thin ice, I laid out flat and squirmed slowly until
I had snaked my way 100 feet or so from the plane. Then, when I
thought it was safe to do so, I stood up and looked back. To my
surprise, the plane had not sunk to the bottom of the 90-foot deep
water! The tail and wingtips had caught on the ice. By this time,
my clothing was frozen stiff. Then I remembered my survival kit,
including a waterproof matchbox, was in the plane. “I guess some
lessons have to be learned the hard way,” I told myself.
As I hurried toward the shore of the lake, I could not help but
think of the three pilots who had gone down when their planes had
broken through the ice the year before. I thought too of my many
conversations with experienced bush pilots when I began flying in
Canada in the ‘60s. They explained that there could be undetectable
thin spots caused by underwater currents and warned me of the
danger of hitting a large unseen snowdrift when trying to land in
They filled me in on “whiteouts,” glassy water landings, and the
method of preheating engines in the bush in 30 below temperatures.
From what they told me, I thought they must have experienced
many narrow escapes. Having flown mostly in the southern states,
I had never heard stories like these. “If you fly in the North long
enough,” they said, “you will have a few of your own to tell.” At that
moment, I was wondering if I would have a story or be a statistic.
With the help of a woodcutter, I was able to get home safely late that
night. I enlisted my son Jim, Kim Meyering, and Dale Kuipers to
help salvage the plane.
Back at the accident site, we spread large beams around the aircraft.
These provided footing for the long poles we used to form a double
A-frame from which we hung a chain hoist. To prevent the aircraft
from being crushed by the fast–forming ice, we used a chain saw to
keep it cut back.
By Garland Cofield (BIMI Canada Director 1979–1989)
On the fourth day, we lifted the plane out of the water and let it
down on the ice and boards. We immediately drained the tanks and
crankcase and removed and wrapped the radios and instruments.
After that, we tied the plane to tow lines behind a couple of
snowmobiles and towed it across the lake and up to a clearing on
the shore. There, after building a house of 2x4s and wrapping heavy
plastic around the plane, we kept it heated for three days and nights
to thaw it out. I camped out with it during this time.
I knew the plane would have to be flown out on the lake because
the thick bush and rough terrain would not allow us to transport
it any other way. We poured in fresh oil, installed the necessary
instruments, fueled up the tanks, and added a hot battery. What a
thrill it was to hear that Franklin engine roar into life!
I taxied the plane out on the lake and headed her into the wind. As
I fed the power, she lifted off and soared into the sky like an eagle in
flight. I flew 100 miles to Red Lake, Ontario; I thanked the Lord for
bringing both the plane and me through this ordeal without damage
Such experiences made bush flying in northern Canada exciting.
Airports were few and far between so lakes had to provide our
“runways” in winter when we used skis and in summer when we
I am daily thankful to the Lord that after all these years of flying,
I am still alive. I am also grateful for my wife, Reba, and for her
willingness to work with me in the North. 1 Before we were married,
both of us believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We were so grateful
for the Lord saving us that we made up our minds to spend our lives
serving Him in missionary work.
During a church missions conference, a man stood and asked Reba a
question he thought would put her on the spot. “Mrs. Cofield, when
did the Lord call you to be a missionary?” As she put her hand on
me, her answer was “When I married this man.” The pastor later told
me those were the most profound words of the conference.
I have been asked more than one time “Why did we go to Canada?”
My answer was the love of Christ constraineth me.
For more information about the Far North, contact Tony Bulawa,
Far North Director of BIMI, 423-344-5050.
Reba Cofield went Home to be with the Lord on December 1, 2000.