Last month, when Maine Warden Pilot Daryl Gordon died in the line of duty, the Warden Service and the Gordon family lost a good man. The NTSB has yet to release its finding in the cause of Warden Gordon’s ski plane crash on Clear Lake. There were known snow squalls in the area of the crash, so weather almost certainly seems a factor. Could it have been a mechanical issue, or what safety investigators call a “catastrophic mechanical failure of the aircraft?” Or could it have been even pilot error? We, and Federal investigators, may never know the exact details surrounding this tragic accident
There are some things, however, that we do know.
When it comes to aviation, there is flying, and then there is bush flying. In conventional flying, most small aircraft are flown in fair weather under visual flight rules (VFR) from point A to point B. In many instances, private pilots are tracked by radar and assisted by air traffic controllers.
Warden pilots are by definition bush flyers. More often than not they are involved in search and rescue missions in some of the nastiest weather that Mother Nature can dish out. They fly over uncertain terrain with mountains and other navigational perils including limited visibility and windy conditions. In fact, bush flying in Maine is not unlike bush flying in Alaska, which has the highest number of bush pilots per capita of any state in the U.S.. And, as Alaskans will attest, many of its bush flyers don’t make it to retirement. Bush flying is inherently dangerous!
Statistically speaking, Maine warden pilots have a laudable safety record. Although weather is considered the ultimate peril for a bush flyer, at least two of the other Maine warden pilots who perished in aircraft did not die as a result of weather conditions. When you consider over the years just how many times that warden pilots have flown in bad conditions (and survived themselves) it is a testament to their flying skills and their personal courage.
As one retired warden pilot observed in the aftermath of Warden Pilot Gordon’s death, “We all know the risks, but we love the work and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
When it comes to courage and sacrifice, Daryl Gordon left his mark long ago, as a young combat marine in Vietnam. A decorated American warrior, he may have felt like so many others who did come home, that every day on earth after that was a special blessing. From all reports, he appears to have been a man who lived that way. Those who knew him speak of his wonderful personal demeanor and sense of duty.
The knowledge that he was a “good man” in every sense of the term, and that he left this world doing what he loved, should offer some solace to those he left behind.
As you know, there is an alewife war going on in Downeast Maine. The Federal government is determined to stock alewives in the St Croix watershed. Downeast guides want no part of this, arguing that there is no historic evidence of alewife runs. Maybe the Feds should check this out. In a pamphlet called “Baitfish of Vermont,” alewives are listed as an unwanted exotic species: “In Vermont, alewives are currently found only in Lake St. Catherine. It is suspected that they were illegally introduced by anglers. Alewives reproduce rapidly and can quickly dominate a lake. They eat the eggs and fry of important sport fish and also compete with native fish species for food and habitat. Alewives also interfere with the natural reproduction of lake trout and landlocked salmon.”
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his new book is “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook.”