Morgan Cox has spent the last 12 years of his life working construction in Resolute Bay, the second most northern community in Canada. The best part of his ten months away from home is usually the flight back to his wife and Michelle and their two young children each December. Not this time.
Cox, 11 other passengers and two crew members aboard a chartered flight from Resolute Bay to Yellowknife experienced a rough landing when the aircraft missed the runway in Cambridge Bay while attempting to land for a scheduled fuel stop. Instead of hitting the runway they landed in an icy, rocky field about 1.5 kilometres south of the runway at 1:45 a.m. MT on Saturday, December 13th.
Cox was up front, directly behind the pilot. “I could see the runway lights right there and I watched the pilot do his thing. He put the flaps down and did all the normal stuff they do for a landing, but then we started to descend faster and faster and then we hit solid,” he says.
Cox says it took about ten seconds for his life to flash before his eyes. When he realized he was still alive he and the other passengers aboard got out of the plane as quickly as they could. “When we hit everyone on her was like they were frozen for about half a minute but then we got out pretty fast. The passengers on the left side of the plane had seen fire coming out of the engines on their side just before we crashed, so we pretty much were in a rush to get out. Thinking back now I can’t believe how calm we all were.”
Incredibly, no one was seriously injured.
There were other Newfoundlanders aboard. Besides Cox’s brother, Wayne, from Terrenceville there were two other men from the Burin Peninsula and another from the Mount Pearl area. All were trying to get home to their family’s in time for Christmas.
The men, all dressed in light layers for travel, took a moment to assess their odds in the -41 degree temperatures. The plane itself was a “write off” according to Cox. While the left side of the plane was almost like new the right side-the side he had been traveling on-was practically destroyed. Also destroyed was the nose of the plane, the tip of the right wing, the engine and the landing gear. “The moon was out and you could see off about 100 feet away from where we landed was all these rocks. If we would have hit that instead of the softer snow where we struck then you wouldn’t be talking to me today,” he says. The men waited to see if the plane would catch fire. When they felt it was safe enough, and the cold began to set in, the men climbed back on board to wait for rescue. “We bundled up in these engine blankets and those emergency blankets and just waited.”
The pilot had a cell phone and called for help. The rough landing also set off the airplane's transmitter beacon and a local resident discovered the downed plane 40 minutes after it crashed. Within four hours everyone was transported by snowmobile into Cambridge Bay to be assessed before being flown to Yellowknife on another Summit Air plane. From there the men took a flight to Edmonton, changed planes and headed for home.
“It was rough having to get on the same kind of airplane you just crashed in, but there was no other way home so we didn’t have much choice.” Cox and the other men just wanted to get home as fast-and as safely-as they could.
While the voice recorder from the airplane's cockpit has been sent to Ottawa for analysis and investigators with the federal Transportation Safety Board were investigating the incident Cox says the pilots were saying the crash was caused by “an optical illusion.” “The pilots said that weather like we had that night plays tricks on the eyes and they just missed their mark as they were landing. They said we went down too fast.”
Whatever the cause, Cox says he is just happy to be home. “It didn’t really hit me until I pulled into the driveway. Then I realized what a close call it really was.”