Family of Manitoba helicopter pilot killed in Antarctica releases statement
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, January 12, 2016 8:53AM CST
Last Updated Thursday, January 14, 2016 11:20PM CST
A friend says it's a shame that a skilled helicopter pilot from Manitoba who never crashed in more than 30 years of flying died in a freak fall in Antarctica.
David Wood, 62, was working with the Australian government's Antarctic program at the Davis research station, a permanent base on the icy continent.
After a fuel-loading operation on a remote ice shelf Monday, Wood got out of his helicopter and tumbled into a deep crevasse. He was rescued several hours later but died of his injuries Tuesday.
"Go figure," said Bruno Meili, owner of Fireweed Helicopters in Whitehorse. "Not what you think would happen in our kind of business."
Wood worked as much, if not more, in the Northern Hemisphere as he did in the south.
He was from Winnipeg Beach, Man., and spent the last 15 summers flying for Fireweed across the Yukon, said Meili. Wood flew mining exploration charters and helped fight forest fires.
The two men became close friends. And when Wood travelled to Antarctica, they kept in touch over Skype.
Meili said Wood loved to fly.
"He lived and breathed helicopters."
The Australian Antarctic Division said in a statement that Wood was working for Australian company Helicopter Resources at the time of the accident.
He was flying one of two helicopters that were "sling loading" fuel to a depot on the West Ice Shelf northeast of the Davis Station, the division said. Once the fuel drums were dropped at the depot site, the choppers landed and the pilots got out to retrieve the equipment they had been using.
At that point, Wood fell down the chasm.
"The second pilot was not able to assist," said the division. "He made radio contact with Davis station and flew back to the station for help, a flight of around 45 minutes."
Wood lay at the bottom of the crevasse -- some 20 metres down -- for about three hours. A search-and-rescue team was able to haul him up and fly him back to Davis station.
"Mr. Wood was a respected colleague and friend to many in the Australian Antarctic program," said the statement, which added that efforts were being made to return his body to Australia.
Wood lived for many years in Australia and has two grown children there, Meili said. Wood's wife and two youngest children live in Manitoba.
In a February 2015 interview with another Davis Station employee, Wood spoke at length about his flight experience, which included multiple stints in Antarctica. He said he keeps returning to the frigid continent because "it reminds me of the Canadian Prairies in winter."
Wood also described flying in Antarctica as "sheer hell."
At the time, Wood told the interviewer he was living in Winnipeg. He added that he goes through annual flight training in Whitehorse.
Wood also said in the interview that he has a son and daughter living in Melbourne, Australia.
"It's hard to beat water bombing on a bush fire or sitting in the middle of the Amery Ice Shelf in the sun," he said.
In the '80s, he had a memorable job flying to lighthouses around Australia to change light bulbs.
Wood had three previous stints working in Antarctica -- in 1993, 2014 and 2015, Wood said in the interview, adding he never went without a Quebec brand of balm for cow udders, which he smeared on his hands so he could work in the freezing weather without gloves.
Wood said he kept returning to Antarctica because of the people.
"And it reminds me of the Canadian Prairies in winter."
Arden Meyer, general manager of Trans North Helicopters in Whitehorse, said Wood started in the business with his company. He described Wood as well-known and well-liked.
"Dave will certainly be missed in the Yukon and in our industry."
Thursday, his family released this statement:
14th January 2016
A statement from the Wood and Macdonald families
Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Uncle, Cousin, Friend – our dear David Wood died in Antarctica on January 12, 2016, living the life he dreamed – full of adventure.
For over 35 years Dave spent his working life in environments that most only experience in documentaries. He flew helicopters in the Arctic, Antarctic, South America, China and the South Pacific as well as working many seasons in Australia and Canada for exploration and bush (forest) firefighting operations.
Along his travels Dave made his way into the hearts of people throughout the world, many of whom we have heard from already, giving us much strength.
Our heartfelt thanks go to his colleagues at the Australian Antarctic program, particularly those at Davis station who placed their own safety at risk in the rescue operation. We would like to acknowledge the tireless and dedicated effort of the medical personnel in Davis, supported by specialists from Hobart and around Australia. We are indebted to you for those hours spent working for a better outcome and we mourn with you.
David leaves behind much loved family in Canada and Australia and a legacy of a life lived to its fullest. There are no words to describe our sorrow at his untimely death. He had so much left to give, so much left to share.
A service is being planned in Winnipeg, Canada.
We ask that you please respect the family’s privacy at this time.
- With files from CTVNews.ca