Tony Ellis of Ellis Air and Ian Wilson of Wildcat Helicopters, started out their day helping local trail contractor Kelley Cook and members of the Hope Mountain Centre on a special volunteer mission. They were transporting building supplies into a remote area in the Tulameen Valley. Cook sent out an email to Ellis who is a semi-retired aircraft maintenance engineer and private pilot who owns a helicopter leasing business out of Delta. “Know anyone with a helicopter?” Ellis replied, “What do you need?”
Ellis, Cook and friend and business associate Ian Wilson pulled together for a productive day hauling camp infrastructure supplies such as bear caches, fire rings and outhouses. It was October 20. Wilson and Ellis flew in with a 14 passenger helicopter, a Bell 212, to do their part.
“We were happy to help,” Ellis said.
“Funding opportunities just haven’t been available recently,” stated Cook. “We are still waiting for B.C. Timber Sales to complete their rehabilitation work on the eastern section of this important trail. With people like Tony and Ian, we are getting closer to making this historic trail a treasure for southern B.C..” The 1849 Hudson Bay Heritage Trail has been a work in progress for Cook and others including B.C.’s Backcountry Horsemen.
The supplies were purchased through a partnership with Recreation Sites and Trails B.C. and the Hope Mountain Centre. “We did two drops on either side of Mt. Davis. Ian and Tony are both long time pilots and they donated their time plus the machine to the tune of an $8000 donation,” Cook stated. “We were really really appreciative.”
After the supply drops were made and the group enjoyed a celebratory lunch, Tony and Ian flew off to explore and fish. “This whole time we were aware that there was still a missing helicopter somewhere between Hope and Kelowna,” said Ellis. “Ian had notified the Search and Rescue crew we were working the area and we could see and hear the helicopters all day long. I had made a deal with Ian that I would take him fishing in an alpine lake after we finished our work day, so we did some catch and release before flying off to do some sightseeing…our day had been great.”
Wilson and Ellis have both been flying long enough to know that not all flight missions end well. “Both Tony and I have been involved in rescue and recovery missions before,” said Wilson, “and the missing helicopter was definitely in the back of our minds. Tony is very familiar with the area so as we were flying around we were looking…we couldn’t help, but think of it.”
It was at this point in their travels that a fun day turned sad. Missing pilot Rod Phillipson’s helicopter remains were spotted in a saddle of Kelly Peaks by Tony who was flying at the time. “As I made the approach into a crystal blue lake at Kelly Peaks, I noticed the downed helicopter,” stated Tony. “Something wasn’t right in the familiar landscape and as we drew closer there among the rocks and dark shadows was something out of place.”
“We spotted something glinting,” added Wilson, “and the wreckage was just above it. We called with the GPS coordinates to the SAR techs.”
“Then, we landed,” added Ellis, “and waited for the Search and Rescue Cormorant to arrive. They winched down two technicians and confirmed there was a fatality. At this point, we departed back to Tulameen.”
“The whole experience brings you back to Earth,” Ellis concluded. “While we were saddened by our discovery, we were glad we could at least bring closure to the family.”
“It was very sobering,” added Wilson. “We didn’t know this pilot, but we all have friends who have died in aviation. It is one of the very real risks of flying.”