Yukon Nuggets

1971 Yukon Nuggets

Air Rescue


On a cool morning of November 7th, 1971, a Cessna 172 aircraft took off from the Whitehorse airport. Four young people on board were going on a sight-seeing tour of Carcross and Tagish. That tour took on dramatic proportions when a snowstorm moved in, covering the entire region with heavy cloud.

Pilot Doug Phillips was at the controls that day back in 1971. With him were passengers Red and Shirley Lewis and Doug Young. Cruising over Carcross, the weather socked in. Phillips could see only the Big Thing mountain sticking up through the cloud bank. He was lost. He radioed the Whitehorse tower, and though able to communicate with the plane, air traffic control could not help him find the airport.

Phillips was told to continue circling the area around Carcross using the mountain as a point of reference. He was also told how to prepare for the worst - a crash landing. Hoping that the weather would clear, Phillips and his three passengers circled, while watching the fuel gage slowly move toward empty.

It was getting dark. Meanwhile, the regular CPAir flight from Vancouver was approaching Whitehorse. Captain Ron Wood began picking up the communication between Phillips and the tower. On the radio, Wood told Phillips to keep circling. When the 737 landed and the passengers deplaned, Wood asked the Vancouver office if he could try an unusual rescue mission. He and first officer, Brian McMahon then took off in search of the tiny Cessna.

They spotted the plane and asked Phillips how fast he could fly. About 100 miles an hour was the reply. The slowest the jet could travel was 140 miles an hour. The Cessna got behind the jet and followed its lights. When he got too far ahead, Wood circled around, overtook the Cessna and continued leading it toward Whitehorse. This was done four times. Finally, the big jet dipped beneath the clouds as Phillips followed.

Down through the snowstorm they plunged. The jet could be of no more assistance. As they came through the snowstorm, a glorious sight greeted the four in the Cessna. The Whitehorse airport lay dead ahead. When they touched down, more than five hours after taking off, the fuel gage read ... zero.

Truly a remarkable bit of luck, and a lot of courage on behalf of the Cessna pilot, Doug Phillips, and Captain Ron Wood of CPAir.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.