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Lakeland AirwaysCapture the Spirit page 2

StorY by Robert S. Grant • photos by BOB BAGLOW

On May 31, 1994, tragedy came to the Garehs when an insidious round of cancer took Robert’s life. His unexpected departure stunned not only the family but the closely knit community of Temagami. Finding ways to deal with terrible grief became necessary, but within days an answer became apparent to the Garehs.

Robert’s death occurred at a time when commitments had been made and clients, unaware of the tragedy, continued to show up for flights into the wilderness. The choice had to be made–either shut down a company which had been in business for decades or carry on. Consequently, Judy and Darren decided to dedicate themselves to Lakeland Airways and Three Buoys Houseboat Vacations. Debbie and Nancy returned to their careers far from Temagami.

“We had people knocking on the door for our fly-in outpost camps, canoe trips and houseboats, and it was only the beginning of the season,” recalled Judy, from an office overlooking rows of silvered propane bottles and stacks of cardboard boxes bristling with paddles and yellow life jackets waiting for C-FJKT. “We had to get ourselves through the first summer without Bob.”

Today, a typical August morning for Lakeland Airways and its 10 employees means tourists arriving early, dropping their camping gear and strolling the picturesque community of Temagami until departure time. As one airplane leaves, another arrives and dock helper Kevin Picard quickly attaches a canoe to the left side. Pilots like Toronto-trained Steve Katsikavis and Vancouver-born Chris Luca waste little time as they, too, drag fuel hoses, check oil and pump floats for quick turnarounds while dispatcher Cindy Salmond writes receipts and co-ordinates departures. Often, low-time pilots wait patiently to inquire about job possibilities as they listen to FJKT’s rumbling R-985 and the high-pitched roar of GUFH on takeoff.

As chief pilot, Darren handles aircrew hiring and training. He drills them relentlessly in far more than basic airplane skills. Navigation must be precise. Trips average 50 miles with some as short as 20 in topography containing the highest points of land in Ontario. Occasionally, charters depart south to Toronto’s Lake Ontario or north to Moosonee on James Bay. Fifteen to 20 flights from dawn to dusk foster valuable crosswind and short lake experience. Pilots must learn to repair propane camp equipment and adjust outboard motors when necessary. “They’re hired to work here, not just fly,” Darren remarks.

Each aircraft has GPS but initially, Darren turns them off or removes the units until new hires prove they can find their way. He pointed out that flying point to point with GPS sometimes cannot be accomplished safely on low-visibility days. Manipulating an airplane through high ridges and low valleys lined with forests requires skills rarely taught in flight schools.

“We receive about 300 résumés and phone calls from pilots every season and a lot of them are almost zero-time with fresh commercials,” explained Darren. Checked out by his father, Darren has logged over 7,000 hours on Beavers. “I try to employ people with at least 150 hours on floats and that’s not really too hard since we’re fairly civilized here. They earn about $2,500 a month and they’re not stuck in a tent or lodge in the middle of nowhere.”

Like many Canadian bush flying organizations, Lakeland Airways becomes involved in medevac flights. Located in the centre of one of Canada’s most popular canoeing regions, Judy and Cindy often respond to emergency calls. Over-exuberant or careless holidayers can suffer from sprained backs, heart attacks or rush unprepared into the woods. One swimmer neglected to ascertain water depth before diving from a ridge. Unfortunately, for him, a rocky bottom waited three feet below the surface. Miscarriages, too, occur on canoe trips. The Lakeland staff quickly drop everything to help. Fortunately, the Beaver has plenty of room for stretchers.

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