Have you ever noticed that some of the best movies are based on true events? Ordinary people usually have more interesting stories to tell than do the Hollywood types. A while ago, I was told about a pilot named Willie, who was inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. He had been flying out of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, for decades. The stories I heard about him truly made him a legend in that community. It immediately made me envious that I never crossed paths with him.
Willie Laserich arrived in Cambridge Bay in the late 1960s. Over the years, he flew an assortment of aircrafts, hauling groceries and supplies to the communities surrounding Cambridge Bay. A few years after getting into business, he started to supply aircraft for medevac flights to hospitals in Yellowknife and Edmonton. By the end of his career, he had flown more than 45,000 hours and made 5,000 medical trips with a perfect safety record. One example of one of his most extreme trips was the transportation of a man whose arm had been torn off in a mining accident. The arm was packed in an ice-filled suitcase that accompanied him on the flight to an Edmonton hospital. Another trip involved a woman with a knife sticking out of her chest. Babies were born in midair six times; Laserich had to contact air traffic control and tell them to add an extra person to the flight manifest. He undertook many risky mercy flights in extreme weather.
Try to imagine laying on a stretcher like those patients, being as in need as them, then add the extra anxiety that would accompany hearing medical staff saying the flight was doubtful due to weather. I bet their spirits were lifted when they heard it was Laserich coming to the rescue. He’d been there, done that, thousands of times. Laserich flew a hundred flights searching for lost trappers, injured hunters and downed pilots. He succeeded in finding them many times. No person or organization ever received a bill. Long before it was popular, all of his planes (including a Learjet) were named after Inuit elders.
Although Laserich’s business was thriving by the early 1990s, it was a completely different story a decade earlier. In the 70s, he had applied, time and again, for a charter license. Transport Canada denied him every time. He must have felt that he didn’t have a single ally in Ottawa and was being deliberately ignored. Far from being ignored, it turned out that Transport Canada was watching Laserich very closely.
It had to be one of the most horrible days in his life when he was walloped by Transport Canada officials. They laid 205 citations against him for breaking flying rules. The longest aviation court case north of 60 in Canada was about to begin. It was like an ant getting into a scrap with an elephant. There was one advantage for the ant though. The court case would be held in his hometown. Check out next week’s issue to find out how it went down.