Stranded Manitoba pilot, 72, camped in bush for 52 hours before rescue

A rescued pilot from Steep Rock, Man. is safe and thankful to be alive after being stranded on the bank of a remote lake for two nights due to mechanical issues with his airplane.

Hap Bednarek, 72, told CTV News he left Steep Rock around 1 p.m. Saturday and was on his way to Sisib Lake, south of Grand Rapids, to visit friends.

Bednarek said when he couldn’t land in the area due to poor visibility he opted to go to nearby Pickerel Lake for a bathroom break and to refuel the plane. His plane has skis so he landed on the frozen lake. That’s when his troubles began.

Bednarek said he had to turn off the plane to put fuel in, and when he went to take off, the plane wouldn’t start.

“I realized I was in trouble,” said Bednarek.

Not one to panic, the 71-year-old walked into the bush, hung a small tarp and started a fire.

“Where I ended up camping was just over the lake bank,” said Bednarek. “There was quite a bit of snow.”

He dragged in wood to his camp from the forest and kept the fire going to stay warm.

“It was heavy slugging in the bush because the snow was pretty deep.”

He spent two nights and two days camping outside before he was rescued.

RCMP said officers were notified Sunday night around 6:45 p.m. of an overdue pilot.

Officers said the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Trenton, Ont. Was also notified and a Hercules search plane was deployed.

Early Monday morning searchers noticed a small fire on Pickerel Lake, but poor weather conditions prevented search and rescue technicians from being able to parachute to the site, prompting a snowmobile patrol to assist with the search.

Grand Rapids RCMP, the Canadian Rangers and Manitoba Sustainable Development travelled 45 kilometres by snowmobile to the fire.

While the snowmobile patrol was heading to Bednarek’s camp, the weather cleared and the SAR techs parachuted to Pickerel Lake around 6:30 a.m. Monday, finding Bednarek dehydrated but in good spirits.

Bednarek said he didn’t sleep during the two days and two nights he spent in the bush but he remembers dozing off for about five minutes Sunday night, when he was awoken by the sound of an aircraft he realized was the Hercules.

“I thought I was dreaming,” he said. “I was so relieved.”

After the parachutes, searchers travelling by snowmobile also arrived to assist with the rescue.

RCMP said Bednarek and the SAR techs were picked up by helicopter at around 4:30 p.m. Monday.

Bednarek said he’s thankful for the rescue team which helped save his life.

He said he plans to go get his plane from Pickerel Lake once the weather warms up.