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West Coast interceptor page 2


He managed to inflate his mae west and deploy and inflate the dinghy. With his rapidly numbing fingers and dulling senses, getting into the dinghy was an exhausting battle. Finally aboard, he discovered that his flashlight was still in the pocket of his winter flying suit. That flashlight was the key to rescue.

No trace of Red McLaren was ever found, although his ejection seat crashed into a henhouse northwest of Comox. According to the owner, several dozen chickens fell over dead from the fright. The Crown paid for the chickens. Speculation was that for ejection, McLaren may have used the alternate ‘D’ handle at the bottom of the ejection seat. This may have resulted in a back injury from leaning forward as the ejection charge ignited. Also, it was believed that he had ejected through the canopy. Whatever the case, even if he was conscious and uninjured when he hit the water, he did not make it.

By 1957, when the CF-100 Mk. 5 became fully operational, the design bugs had been pretty well worked out. Nevertheless, RCAF pilots who came through the training pipeline dreaming of postings to Air Division Sabre 6 fighter squadrons were initially dismayed, to say the least, to find they were going to the dreaded Clunks. However, it only took a few trips on a CF-100 with Orenda 11 engines to convince them that they were getting a splendid fighter airplane in a very demanding role.

CF-100 aircrew flying out of Comox did not need to have a vivid imagination to reckon the odds of surviving a bail-out, particularly in winter. If the mountains didn’t get you, the frigid and usually stormy waters would. The likelihood of anybody at all being able to come to the rescue in time to make a difference seemed to be about on a par with a moon mission.

During summer flying operations, it was decided that the best chance lay in stacking the deck in favour of coming down on land. Thus, the summer seat-pack contained a comfortable sleeping bag and other neat things that would be helpful on a camp-out–not, it was hoped, on a mountain peak, but in the valleys between the mountains.

For a summer water arrival, the outlook was not very good. There was only the trusty personal inflatable life jacket. For this to be helpful, it was best to come down very, very close to shore or a handy rescue boat–the odds of either happening not being something that you would want to bet your life on. The spectacularly cruel and angry seas off Cape Scott on the northwest tip of Vancouver Island, and other vast areas of open water, were best left unmentioned.

During winter operations, each survival seat-pack was changed from a sleeping bag to a dinghy. The thinking was that it would be better to have a slim chance of surviving in the water rather than no chance at all. Clearly, anyone coming down in the frigid British Columbia coastal waters in winter with only a mae west would be fish food in a matter of minutes. Of course, this left winter survival in the mountains a less than promising undertaking, the dinghy having limited usefulness.

On the night of December 16, unaware of the drama unfolding overhead, Bob Burnie (Nav/RO) and I (Cudgel 13 flying CF-100 18503) were bouncing around on the GCA glide path approaching the runway. After landing, we learned of Cudgel 55’s bail-out and hung around the crew room listening to the commotion. When ’503 was refuelled and ready to go and there seemed to be a bit of a lull, we asked the boss, W/C Hal Bridges, if we could get airborne and search the straits. He simply said, “OK, be careful.” Ten minutes later we were taking off into the black hole between the wind-torn cloud base at 1,000 feet and the stormy sea.

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