Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Deerslayer

Hello! I recently received the latest copy of 'Clear & Sixty' and read an interesting article written by a former NCA Pilot. It is a story I'd not heard before and wanted to share with everyone. (I've included a photo of #505, provided to me by Dave DeBace, during happier times.)


It was a crisp, clear October evening in 1969, when Flight 689, a Convair 580, departed MSP (Minneapolis/St.Paul) for INL (International Falls) with a scheduled stop in HIB (Hibbing). The load was light with fewer than a dozen passengers on board as Ship #505 N90858, departed MSP with Captain Len Hanson at the controls. Having flown this trip so many times, we expected another enjoyable albeit routine flight to 'The Falls.' This night would prove to be anything but routine.

The en route weather was clear, punctuated by a star-filled, moonless sky. The flight to HIB took only 35 minutes. As we neared our descent point, we could see the runway lights and airport beacon amidst a sea of darkness. The HIB airport was carved out of a large area of white pine trees and in the evening hours, especially with a lack of snow cover, it resembled a 'black hole.' The HIB station reported calm winds, so we planned on a straight in visual approach to Runway 31. As the FAA Flight Service was closed in the late evening hours, we relied on the station agent to provide us with any visual air traffic. Charlie Cox, the HIB Station Manager, reported 'No traffic in sight' and we proceeded to set up for the approach.

The landing went smoothly and as Captain Hanson lowered the nose and began applying reverse thrust, I observed a group of deer in the distance off to the right of the runway. I yelled DEER!

Len quickly applied full reverse and maximum braking. The noise and the landing lights must have startled the deer as several vaulted across the runway on a collision course with our ship.

"WHAM", we hit one, two, maybe three of the creatures. At this point it was quite difficult to discern. Next, the aircraft yawed to the right accompanied by a left engine fire warning. Captain Hanson did an outstanding job of keeping the aircraft on the runway. With the aircraft stopped, the left engine E-Handle (emergency handle) was pulled and we began to access the situation.

The Stewardess abruptly entered the cockpit and inquired if she should begin a passenger evacuation. Len told her to standby. He then looked out of his left side window to check the condition of the engine and fire indication. He turned quickly to me and exclaimed, "It's gone!! The engine is gone!!"

I radioed the HIB Station and told Charlie to call the Fire Department. After evaluating the aircraft's ground handling capabilities, Len felt confident that he would be able to taxi safely to the gate.

When we arrived at the ramp, we shut down the number two engine and completed the necessary checklists before exiting the cockpit. Imagine out surprise, as we entered a cabin replete with deer bones, innards and blood covering the companion way! In addition, a jagged section of one of the massive Hamilton-Standard propeller blades had torn through the fuselage forward of row one. It had traversed the width of the aircraft and was embedded in the opposite side of the fuselage!

It was fortunate that no passengers were seated in this area. We proceeded to escort the rightfully shaken passengers off the plane, and we immediately met by the Hibbing Fire Department. And now, as we deplaned via the ship's airstair, we witnessed an unbelievable sight! Everything from the left engine's firewall forward was, indeed, GONE! All that remained were severed hydraulic, fuel and oil lines.

Upon further inspection, the degree of the impact became most apparent. There was considerable damage to the wing flaps, nose gear and in addition, a large gash caused by the propeller blade and numerous perforations were found on the left side of the fuselage. With no fire present, the fire trucks departed, and we secured the aircraft. The HIB agents assisted the passengers in providing either ground transportation to INL or overnight accommodations. After a long night, our crew proceeded to a local motel for a brief rest.

The next morning, an aircraft was ferried from MSP in order to get the remaining INL passengers to their destination. North Central mechanics were on board to examine the aircraft and to determine the extent of the damage. Charlie Cox said that after a thorough search of the airport, only a few pieces of the left engine were able to be found. None of the other three propeller blades were recovered. The remains of one deer were located near the runway, and another with a severed leg was found dead in the nearby woods.

After accessing the damage, a decision was made, and the aircraft was to remain on the airport site while the required repairs were accomplished. After three months of extensive rebuild, Aircraft #505 would rejoin the fleet and remain in service until June 29, 1972.

For, it was on that fateful day, that while operating as a ferry flight from OSH to GRB, the aircraft was involved in a midair crash with an Air Wisconsin Twin Otter over Lake Winnebago. All souls on board both aircraft perished, including North Central Captain Jim Cuzzort and his crew.

The accident resulted in the tragic loss of life and the ultimate end of Aircraft #505. Was it simply coincidence that both accidents involved the same ship? Or, did the circumstances on that dark, October night in 1969 seal the eventual fate of Aircraft #505?

We will never know.

Gary Baglien, NOR retired


Anonymous said...

YIKES!!!! Very crazy. I would have hated to have been one of the deer out there.


Louis Griedl said...

Re Flt 292/29 June 29, 1972. I was OSHSM at the time and some of the facts are incorrect.

I also attended the Trial of the Accident at ATW.

Was also involved in recovery of A/c, etc.

Louis Griedl ( Retired Dec 1984)
No in Scottsdale,Az

ghanson said...

That was my father at the controls. I was only six at the time, but I recounted this very story at my fathers funeral, yesterday, December 14th, 2010. Thanks for posting this one. It means a lot to me to get the details correct.

Glenn Hanson
MD11 Captain, UPS