A Belgian ferry pilot credits his personal satellite tracker for the speedy search and rescue effort that allowed him to fly himself back to Newfoundland and Labrador just six weeks after crashing on a remote mountain. Sam Rutherford and co-pilot Alan Simpson, the new owner of the Piper Mirage they were flying, were on the second leg of their transatlantic delivery flight May 1 when an issue with their navigation software led to them hitting the side of a mountain near Makkovik in eastern Labrador. Simpson survived the crash and subsequent rescue but died later. Rutherford, a former Belgian military pilot, was seriously hurt but remained conscious and was able to activate his satellite tracker to supplement the personal locator beacon he also carried. The ELT also triggered but the satellite tracker became an invaluable lifeline. “The big difference with this is that within an hour, and hour and a half, I was getting messages back from my wife,” he told the CBC.
Rescuers used data from the satellite tracker to quickly pinpoint the crash site but a blizzard prevented them from reaching it. Rutherford and Simpson, who never regained consciousness, spent a miserable seven hours on the mountainside before the volunteer rescue group from Makkovik bundled them onto snowmobiles for the three-hour trek to town. With the satellite device, which allows two-way text messaging, Rutherford was kept apprised of search efforts and he was able to provide weather updates. “From a morale point of view that was a total game-changer,” he said. Rutherford flew a similar aircraft back to Makkovik in early June bringing beer to those who saved him. He also flew over the crash site and snapped photos of the wreck.