Norm Foster shares this memory with us -
Further to Marty’s report on the Montreal storm in NetLetter #1445, my experience with that storm is included below, in a story I wrote some time ago. Only the flight number is fictional, as I do not recall the original.
My "Family Forum" from which this is one issue, is comprised of a series of short stories, mainly but not exclusively, from my over 40 years as a pilot with Air Canada/Trans-Canada Air Lines.
Over 50 in number, they have so far only been distributed to my family, friends and hockey buddies.
I knew the call would come!
It had been two days since I completed what I now consider my worst flight from a public relations standpoint, as an Air Canada Captain. A well intentioned attempt to deliver 20 passengers to their destination, came apart when discretion did not overcome the better part of valor, and AC 328 departed Montreal for Quebec city, a short flight away.
The weather for the route from Toronto to Quebec City was forecast to be ideal, at least for the first five legs, with a winter storm becoming a factor only during the last one. My First Officer and I were flying a 48 passenger Viscount on a route affectionately referred to as “the horn.” Consisting of six legs, it saw us landing at North Bay, Earlton, Rouyn/Noranda, Val D’or, and Montreal, before reaching the final destination of Quebec City, a fatiguing 10 hours later. We then flew this route in the reverse direction the following day, so we were thankful for the apparent favorable weather forecast.
All went well until Montreal. The forecast storm struck early, some hours before our arrival, bringing with it rapidly accumulating snow and strong winds, reducing visibility at times to near zero. The landing was a challenge but successfully completed and I proceeded to the Flight Dispatch office to discuss the final leg. It was far from promising. During the briefing it became clear that the Montreal airport was fast shutting down. In addition to the poor conditions we had experienced when we landed, new reports of heavy enroute icing added to the grim picture.
My decision to cancel the final leg was fast formulating when Flight Dispatch offered that our 20 passengers, who had endured a 2 hr. bus ride from downtown Montreal, were now strapped into their seats in my Viscount, awaiting departure….. My call.
In my several years of flying Viscounts, initially as a F/O and then as a Captain, I had witnessed first-hand the aircraft’s superior ability to handle icing conditions. Hot air distributed between two layers of the skin of the wings and tail, were a tremendous improvement over earlier aircraft in providing clean ice free surfaces. As well, the intakes of the jet engines, as well as the propellers themselves, were electrically anti-iced. It was with this knowledge and confidence in the Viscount that I made the fateful decision. We would go.
The F/O was understanding and somewhat relieved when I advised him that I would be flying the last leg, which under more favorable conditions, would have been his. However, my decision to go became questionable when during our taxi out, we became aware that ours was the only aircraft moving on Dorval International Airport. In addition, it became necessary for the snowplows to perform snow removal of the runway centerline to ensure clearance for our Viscount’s propellers that suffered from limited clearance from the ground even under normal circumstances. Runway plowing complete, we departed.
It didn’t take long before we encountered icing conditions that even the Viscount’s advanced anti-icing systems could not handle. Immediately, the visible areas around the windshield and all other observable areas had clear ice protruding out for several inches. Operationally, at 5000 ft, using max climb power and even considering our light load, the Viscount refused to climb higher and instead began showing early signs of wanting to descend. Concurrently, a report from a military aircraft coming from the direction of our destination reported extreme icing, to a degree they’d never before experienced.
With directions to my F/O to tell Air Traffic Control what we were doing, I did a slow but deliberate left turn, and headed for the only safe air I could be sure of….. the cloud free air over our earlier destination of Val D’or. Time seemed to slow to a crawl before we finally burst into the clear night air. It took the remainder of the time to Val D’Or before, with the airstream generated erosion of the ice, the performance returned close to normal. Following a practice landing approach at 2000 ft. to ensure aircraft stability, we landed.
With the ground crew diligently breaking off the remaining chunks of clear ice from the Viscount, an encouraging piece of news came from Flight Dispatch. Although continuing to Quebec city was out of the question, Montreal weather had improved and was once again operational. My own visit to the Met office confirmed the report, and with that we headed off on a return trip to Montreal.
Mother Nature can be a cruel Mistress. By the time we commenced our approach to land at Dorval, the weather had once again deteriorated. Although a precision approach was executed, the visibility was below limits, and upon seeing nothing at 200 ft. above the runway, we pulled up and headed directly to Ottawa where we landed and belatedly cancelled AC 328.
Because the location of the passenger door was at the rear of the aircraft, I was mercifully relieved of facing the 20 disgruntled passengers as they deplaned directly to a waiting bus for their road trip back to Montreal where it all started several stressful hours before. However, there was one person I would still have to face before the debacle was over, the Chief Pilot.
I knew the call would come!
Norm Foster, (Retired)