Airplane pilots are optimists. “Everything will be fine,” we say before a flight, but a touch of doubt lingers because we know that mechanical things fail, people make mistakes and aviation, like the sea, is inherently unforgiving of failure or mistake.
That thought was on my mind recently when we took off from Burlington, Vermont, aboard a classic old airplane, a twin engine DC-3 built in 1945. Less than three hours later, in a flash event, both the failure and the mistake happened at the same time.
The flight left at first light on a cold but clear morning in early April. I was the co-pilot sitting in the right front cockpit seat and happy to be there; in fact I had waited more than 60 years to be there. We were flying northeast toward Goose Bay on a trip that was to be the first leg of a planned journey across the North Atlantic to deliver the airplane to its new home in Russia.
After crossing the broad reach of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we flew towards the Labrador border over a long stretch of still frozen Canadian wilderness. My immediate duty then was to mentor the man in the left seat. He was the plane’s new owner, a Russian businessman and amateur pilot named Yevgeny Barsov, who was getting some practice at flying the airplane by hand.
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