Valley Voices From The Past: Wells Gray Park helicopter rescue makes history in 1950

Historical rescue of man from Azure Mt. Fire lookout documented by his son

Seventy years ago, on September 23, 1950, a helicopter was used to rescue a lookout man on Azure Mountain in Wells Gray Park, British Columbia. This event was possibly the first mountain rescue by helicopter in Canada. It made news across Canada, but was soon forgotten and lost to history, until The Forest History Association of BC recently published an in-depth story about this interesting event.

In September of 1950, Albert David Flowers (who had served in the First and Second World Wars) was working at a remote Forestry lookout on the top of Azure Mountain in Wells Gray Park where his job was to send out daily fire and weather reports. Albert’s son Gerald, who had just turned 15, was the only other person with him. The two were living in a large tent and were busy building a small cabin of which they had the walls up and openings cut out. Unexpectedly, Albert was hit in the leg by a falling rock while clearing a trail. When the leg got progressively worse they realized he needed medical treatment and radioed for help.

A helicopter from Okanagan Air Services was then called away from a job moving equipment and personnel up to what is now called the Lucky Four Mine south of Hope, B.C., to pick up the injured Albert and quickly transport him to medical attention in Kamloops.

The helicopter was an open cockpit Bell 47B-3 (CF-FZX) which had been lightened so it could reach high elevations. It’s pilot was D.K. ‘Deke’ Orr, who had been trained by the famous pilot Carl Agar (winner of the Trans-Canada (McKee) Trophy in 1950).

Deke had to fly his helicopter to a 6,200 ft. elevation, and then bring the helicopter down on the virtual top of the mountain in strong winds. An impressive feat to be sure, and possibly the first mountain rescue by helicopter in Canada.

When the helicopter arrived Gerald had to cut down a number of small trees to clear enough of an area so the helicopter could land safely. Albert was then loaded into the helicopter and they departed.

Gerald took several photographs as they prepared to leave and also when Deke lifted off to fly Albert to the Kamloops Hospital for treatment.

Since the helicopter only had two seats and no space for another person, Gerald was left to his own devices to provide a mode of transportation off the mountain.

Gerald says the next day he walked down the mountain, took a short boat ride and then walked out of Wells Gray Park, a distance of about 40-45 km in two days. He took a gun to fend off black bears, etc., but tells he soon found out that the ammunition he brought turned out to be duds!

Gerald Flowers would later write this story down, and he also added a number of the photographs that he had taken and saved for seven decades. The story is now in a 26 page PDF document Canada’s First Mountain Helicopter Rescue – 1950, by Gerald and Ken Flowers (2020) and is downloadable at: www.fhabc.org.

Gerald later experienced many other adventures growing up and living in British Columbia, and he has written many down, but not yet published.

The Forest History Association of BC have published a number of other interesting articles available on their website at: www.fhabc.org and also through their Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/fhabc

Source: Barriere History, an article posted by Ken Millar on the BC Forest Fire Lookouts Facebook page, and The Forest History Association of BC: www.fhabc.org

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