We were in the middle of a vast wilderness in a helicopter and trying to reach three people on the radio. We didn't expect to get an answer. The call was part of safety routine. The threesome were to be picked up earlier by another helicopter. They had been doing archaeological impact assessments, tough work when the snow is up to their knees.
Suddenly we received an unexpected response on our radio, "This is Rob. We are all done and waiting to be picked up."
I drew a quick startled breath. The stranded people below us somewhere were in trouble. It was winter in northern Canada. The temperature was dropping quickly and the group below us was not equipped for overnight. The second helicopter had not arrived and we did not have enough room in ours to take on all three.
"Okay Rob, we have a slight problem here and we'll get right back to you," our pilot responded. There was no sense in letting the people below know that the situation was much worse than a "slight problem".
It was fourteen below and getting colder. We had enough daylight hours to get our helicopter back to base but not enough time to fly out again to get the stranded threesome. We had not heard anything from the helicopter, which had been scheduled to pick up this team and only later discovered it hit a storm out of Calgary and could not make it in time.
We were working in north east British Columbia, in an area where the beaver, caribou, moose, wolves, bears and other animals far outnumbered the human inhabitants. We could fly for hours and not see another human being so the chances of getting help from anyone on the frozen land below were less than slim. In fact, we had been in the air all day and not seen another vehicle in the frozen land below. The team on the ground was more than a hundred kilometers to the nearest post of any kind.
Our pilot, Dawn, must have felt the weight of the world on her shoulders, as she realized that without the second helicopter we were now in a possible tragic situation. We were running out of time. Our helicopter would soon have to pull out and head for base in order to beat the darkness, yet below us, and about three miles away were three young people who would not survive the night in the bush.
Suddenly a tanker truck appeared below us. If we could hail him, he could be the answer to our dilemma. It was imperative to get the truck driver's attention. Dawn flashed lights and he stopped. We didn't have time to be elated because then he pulled away again. This time Dawn pulled up the helicopter and came around the front of the truck fully intending to come down directly in his path so that he would have to stop. He stopped and began backing up. It turned out he was actually preparing to position his truck to bring in some water as he was out working on an ice road.
Once we were landed, Shawn, my husband, as the archaeologist in charge of the project, hopped out of the helicopter, ran over and gave a quick rundown on the situation to the driver of the truck. Then Shawn directed Dawn to go for the stranded threesome while he remained with the truck.
We radioed we were on the way and their voices indicated relief. Later they were to discover just how distressful the situation had been. But now we could take two people and send the third home in the truck.
When we all landed back at the air field that night we had fifteen minutes left of daylight. Rob, the team member, who had been left off to get back by truck, was to arrive three hours later.
We rarely saw traffic of any kind out in the bush so I thought the appearance of that truck as more than unusual. I guess some consider it a coincidence for the truck to suddenly be there on a closed road in the middle of a swamp when time was of the essence. Personally I just thanked God that his angels were working overtime!