Sometimes all it takes is a reassuring voice on the radio and a heartfelt “follow me” to spell the difference between life and death in a tight aeronautical spot. That’s what happened to American long-distance ferry pilot Allen Wall, who was flying a Cessna 182 on a transatlantic ferry flight on April 27 when he reported heavy icing and fuel problems during a leg from Keflavik, Iceland, to Wick, Scotland. Wall’s distress calls and estimate of his location were relayed to the crew of a CHC Scotia AS 332 Super Puma that was within range of the nervous singe-engine pilot.
The North Sea drama started when Wall radioed Outer Hebrides ATC in Stornoway at 2:30 p.m. to report his problem while 60 mi north of Cape Wrath, Sutherland, the extreme northern tip of Scotland. A Royal Air Force Nimrod (a maritime-patrol variant of the venerable de Havilland Comet, the world’s first jet airliner) from the RAF base at Kinloss and Coast Guard helicopter aircrews were scrambled to locate the aircraft and were on standby to attempt a sea rescue if the pilot ended up in the Atlantic.
Asked to join the operation, CHC Scotia captain Martin and copilot Terry Boddy were transporting 14 passengers to Aberdeen from oilfields west of Shetland. Within 15 min they located the Cessna, which by then was suffering from icing on both control and fuel systems. The helicopter crew then directed Wall to follow them to a primitive airstrip on Flotta, an island in nearby Scapa Flow.
Commenting on Wall’s performance, CHC Scotia’s Martin said, “He had a difficult situation to handle, and he did very well. He certainly seemed a competent pilot in the way he handled things and conducted himself.”
Despite a descent to warmer air, which melted off much of the Cessna 182’s ice, control surfaces had reportedly been damaged, leading controllers to contemplate an open-ocean ditching in frigid seas before the helicopter crew intervened and led the airplane to safety.