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Former Nestor Falls man releases book about flying career


If you conjure up an idea of what you wanted to be when you grew up, a mustachioed pilot probably was pretty high up on your list.

There's a reason this is a mainstay in the dream professions of children (and, let's face it, adults, too): it's cool!

Growing up with a father who was a pilot (mustache and all), I was the envy of all my friends. In fact, even now that I'm an adult, I still get a little surge of pride when I tell people that my Dad, Sam Cole, is a pilot.

Everyone always wants more details. This is not true of all jobs.  I am an accountant and, I assure you, nobody asks for more details about my job.

I still love to sit and listen to my father share stories from his flying career. It doesn't matter if it involves the exotic places he's been able to fly to as a commercial pilot or the dangerous journeys he's taken as a bush pilot, the stories always are interesting and colourful.

I'm so pleased that everyone now has an opportunity to experience these stories with his book, “Instruments, Switches, Radios and Rudders: True Stories from the Great White North and Beyond.”

Don't be fooled into thinking that this book only is for aviation enthusiasts. It really is an interesting read for anyone who ever has wanted to see inside the cockpit. Even younger readers will get a kick out of the personal photos that are peppered throughout the chapters.

If you don't want to take my word for it, read the following short excerpt from the book and see for yourself:

Down we edged, slowly and gingerly, ever mindful of the fate that had befallen so many others whom had pushed just a bit too far. It wasn't looking good. Usually as a ship descends and the reach between it and the unforgiving rigidity of the forest is diminished, there becomes a darkening of the cloud bases, a product of the absence of reflective light.

But we saw none of it. My pulse quickened as the altimeter slowly crept down to three hundred feet. Still no hint of what lay below! I threw open my side window and thrust my head half out into the icy slipstream. There was little hope to see ahead but maybe down.

"I knew there had to be that small breathing space that separates the earth and sky . . . there almost always is.

Then I saw it! The variation in light; we were near. Ever so timidly I squeezed even lower, head still protruding ridiculously out the window like my winged ancestors from an earlier era; one eye on the instruments while the other blurred by cold and wind groped for any tangible sign.

One hundred and fifty feet . . . there! At last, I could make out the frosted tops of the spruce forest. I shoved the nose down, like a bloodhound not wanting to lose the scent. Now we were on the deck with mere feet separating the dangling skis from the treetops. I could see ahead now, but only a few hundred feet.

As I yanked my head back into the cockpit, I noticed Al gesturing that I flown slightly to the left of the localizer as we had descended. At the same instant, an opening appeared in the bush directly ahead and I instinctively dove for it thinking it as my salvation; the end of the runway must be near!

In a peripheral blur, the VOR transmitter shot by almost above us and just a hair's breadth from the starboard wing! Then to my horror and alarm, the forest reappeared ahead of the airplane as suddenly as it had vanished, only now the treetops where above us and not below!

In an act of self-preservation, I yanked back the controls and slammed on the power. NNA bounded over the barrier, pine cones flying in all directions! Soon I would die, I thought, if not from impaling some object more robust than this DC-3 it would then be from adrenaline poisoning. Then abruptly below the nose, barely visible through the fog and the ice-coated windshield, I caught a glimpse of a narrow road, which was cut through the thick bush leading away from the VOR.

“Ah," I thought to myself, "It must lead to the runway.”

I abandoned all the instrument flying, disciplines at this point, and became fully committed to flying the aircraft visually . . . usually in weather this poor, a risky type of decision like this makes for an unhappy ending to the flight! Albert and Steve now were just along for the ride and may even have had their heads down below the field of view, or perhaps covered their eyes with trembling hands!

I could not see them for my face was nearly pressed against the blurry, alcohol-smeared windshield and nothing else concerned me. Only seconds had passed since we had nearly taken out Thompson's VOR, which by the grace of someone's god we narrowly missed as a result of me not flying the localizer beam with greater accuracy. Now I was racing down a narrow path through the trees at ninety knots in the fog to a destination I knew not!

Another clearing! Down we dove again. Jesus Christ, the road leads to the control tower, but there's the runway to the right!

“Albert, full flap!” I yelled.

I banked a little and skidded the rest of the way and suddenly NNA was on the ground. We truly had cheated death one more time.

Forty-five years of flying, 20 years to write, and now this publication is available for aviation enthusiasts', local history buffs, or anyone who likes a good tale.

Sam Cole was born in Thessalon, Ont., the eldest of five children. He grew up around airplanes. His father's career as a bush pilot resulted in many moves from Sept-Iles, Que. to Nestor Falls, Ont.

At age 21, Sam had both an engineer and a commercial pilot's licence. His life as a bush pilot and engineer prevailed for 13 rugged years until he became an airline pilot. He now lives in a historic former plantation home in Gloucester, Va. with his wife, Kate.

“Instruments, Switches, Radios and Rudders: True Stories from the Great White North and Beyond” is available at Betty's in Fort Frances, at Falls Hardware in Nestor Falls, or via mail by contacting the author at

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