Parksville man and his son ditch plane in ocean; swim 100 metres to shore and survive

They were rescued by CFB Comox personnel near Port Hardy

A Parksville man and his son survived by swimming 100 metres to shore after ditching their light sport plane off the tip of North Vancouver Island Monday afternoon.

Gunter Schlichting of Parksville and his son Frank, from Grand Forks, were picked up in remote Spruce Bay, cold and wet but otherwise unharmed, by a rescue crew from the 442 Rescue Squadron at CFB Comox.

The pair were on a planned flight from Qualicum Beach to Shearwater, near Bella Bella, when heavy cloud cover over the local airstrip and limited fuel forced them to turn back in an attempt to reach the Port Hardy airport.

But the weather worsened and the small plane faced strong headwinds that caused them to use up fuel even faster, said a spokesman for 19 Wing public affairs.

“(Frank) said ‘We cannot make it to Port Hardy,'” Gunter told CTV News. “So he called in mayday. That’s when I knew things were serious.”

Frank Schlichting tried to locate a clearing, logging road or beach on which to land, but the inhospitable terrain of the North Island offered nothing suitable, according to 19 Wing Comox. He selected a small bay with relatively calm water conditions and successfully ditched the small plane as close to shore as he deemed safe.

“He actually pulled off a good landing,” said the 19 Wing spokesman. “He didn’t flip or cartwheel. The plane bounced once, then sort of stuck to the water before it started going down.”

“We just had time to undo our seat belts, and the water started coming in,” Frank told CTV.

A CH-149 Cormorant crew from 442 Squadron located the two men and the downed aircraft about an hour after the ditching, relying on info from Frank’s Mayday call and their last known position on radar.

The Cormorant landed on the beach and picked up the men, who were flown to Port Hardy and transferred to a CC-115 Buffalo for a flight to Comox. Father and son were uninjured and required no medical treatment.

The flight originated in Grand Forks, where Frank Schlichting runs a business, 19 Wing Comox said. He had stopped in Qualicum Beach to pick up his father for the jaunt to Shearwater.

“(The plane) is classed as an ultralight, but it looks like a small airplane, with a closed cabin,” the 19 Wing spokesman said.