Air mail service temporarily disrupted by misadventure

According to the December 31, 1931 issue of the Peace River Record, the Fokker airplane flown by John Bythell, had the misfortune of being snatched by the rough ice on the Peace River. The mail plane, carrying two passengers on the way to Keg River and Fort Vermilion, was taking off south of the railway bridge (note Our Lady of Peace Church steeple in the background) when its right wing tip succumbed to the result of the thaw and refreezing of the river. There were no human injuries.

Air mail service temporarily disrupted by misadventure

The Friday, December 18, 1931 issue of the Peace River Record under the headline “Punch” brings new plane for Peace River-Vermilion Service tells the following story: “The big cabin Fokker plane of the Canadian Airways brought to Peace River last week to remain in service here for the delivery of northern mails and the conducting of a commercial service, Tuesday morning lay a wreck on the ice of the Peace River, within a few yards of the spot where Captain [George] Gorman wrecked a big Imperial Oil plane ten years ago. The machine was damaged beyond repair and following an inspection by the insurance adjuster, is being dismantled.

“Pilot [John] Bythell had taken on a load of mail and two passengers for the trip to Keg River and Fort Vermilion and leaving from a point near the railway bridge taxied south along the narrow strip of smooth ice. He had cleared the ice and gained an altitude of about fifty feet, when a sudden down current of wind from the steep bank and the hills to the southeast caught the plane and forced it down suddenly. Had he been alone, the pilot might have made a desperate effort to regain the air, taking the chance of a bad spill, but with passengers his thought was for their safety, and he held an even keel. A second downward gust of wind dropped him still further, and the right wing catching on a hummock of ice, the big plane flopped and cracked up, the right wing being torn completely off and the undercarriage badly torn and twisted.

“No injuries were sustained by anyone, Mrs. J. B. Kemp and her daughter, who were returning to their home at Keg River, and who were to experience their first airplane ride were more disappointed than harmed.

“Pilot “Punch” Dickins arrived Wednesday with another plane and in company with pilot Bythell, resumed the mail flights to the North, following which he will return by train to Edmonton, leaving the new Bellanca plane with which pilot Bythell will continue the service. The salvaged parts of the Fokker plane will be shipped out.

“Pilot Bythell has been in commercial flying since 1915, and has a splendid record. This is his first crash, and even though it was unavoidable, he came out of it with credit for his cool headed action in avoiding more serious consequences.”

Written by Beth Wilkins, Researcher, Peace River Museum Archives and Mackenzie Centre

(Sources: Peace River Record; Northern Gazette)