Bear expert, writer and film maker Charlie Russell drops in… at the boat launch — UPDATED

Just one day after he landed at the Centennial Park boat launch for gas and a prescription refill, naturalist Charlie Russell crashed in the woods near Atlin. The well-known Alberta bear researcher made a pit stop at the boat launch in his tiny Kobe Mk3 float plane on Tuesday morning where he surprised Joyce Lopatka who was out enjoying a stroll by the river. Russell, who lives near Waterton Lake National Park, left Pincher Creek on Monday bound for Whitehorse where he has a date with his girl friend, Beverly Wood. David F. Rooney photo

By David F. Rooney

Just one day after he landed at the Centennial Park boat launch for gas and a prescription refill, naturalist Charlie Russell crashed in the woods near Atlin.

Here’s what the RCMP in Atlin had to say about the crash:

Just one day after he landed at the Centennial Park boat launch for gas and a prescription refill, naturalist Charlie Russell crashed in the woods near Atlin. Photo courtesy of the Atlin RCMP detachment

“On Thursday, May 27, at approximately 12:25 pm a small ultra-Light aircraft crashed immediately after take off in a remote area south of Atlin B.C. The pilot and sole occupant, 69-year-old Charlie Russell was en route from Telegraph Creek to Whitehorse and had landed safely on a small clearing to re-fuel but on take-off a gust of wind pushed his aircraft sideways and Russell was able to maintain enough control to steer between trees and avoid any injuries. Russell, a wildlife biologist and 20 year pilot was able to communicate his position and situation to a friend who then notified authorities.

“Atlin Search and Rescue quickly activated the Provincial Emergency Program, arranged for a helicopter flight and in partnership with B.C. Ambulance and Atlin RCMP Russell was located on a small ridge approximately 60 Kilometers south of Atlin and after being checked by medical staff at the scene was flown to Atlin.”

Poor Charlie. I certainly hope he managed to get to Whitehorse.

As regular Current readers know, I encounted Charlie on Tuesday. I was just coming out of the library when I first heard and saw a light plane coming in low over the river I was convinced the pilot was going to crash. He was maybe 15 or 20 metres above the water and then he banked and disappeared behind a tree.

I waited for the shattering sound of a crash, a glimpse of smoke or maybe a fireball. But there was only silence, then something zipped past my peripheral vision and I heard a muffled splash in the river below the Library. I raced to my SUV and drove down to the boat launch, fully prepared to see a small plane nose-down in the water.

Instead I saw what looked like an ultra-light with pontoons at the bottom of the bottom launch. The pilot appeared to be a senior citizen with unruly hair who was having a laugh with a woman — local resident Joyce Lopatka.

“I was so surprised,” Lopatka said. “I was just out here on the rocks and then I saw him come down with a splash!”

“Did you run out of gas?” I asked as I hustled down the ramp.

“No, I’ve got gas but I could use some more,” the pilot said.

I looked at him more closely. He looked a lot like Alberta naturalist Charlie Russell. Sure enough, that’s who he was.

Russell is a 69-year-old bear expert who spent 11 years in Russia studying the enormous brown bears of the Kamchatka Peninsula. He’s the author of three books — Spirit Bear: Encounters with the White Bear of the Western Rainforest, Grizzly Heart: Living Without Fear Among the Brown Bears of Kamchatka and Learning to Be Wild: Raising Orphan Grizzlies. He has also produced films about bears and has, himself, been the subject of a BBC documentary on his work with giant brown bears in Kamchatka.

He was also, it turned out, on his way meet his girl friend, Beverly Wood, in Whitehorse.

“I left Pincher Creek yesterday and flew to Creston, then Kootenay Lake and spent last night in Trout Lake,” Russell said as he pulled an empty jerry can from the cockpit of the tiny Kobe Mark 3 aircraft that he used extensively in Russia.

He also needed a quick stop at Pharmasave to pick up a prescription medication he had forgotten back at his home, The Hawk’s Nest which is halfway bewteen Pincher Creek and Waterton Lake National Park.

“I figure I’ll get up there and then we’ll go to Old Crow and maybe up to the coast,” he said as he waited for his prescription refill at Pharmasave. “But I had better figure out the logistics. There aren’t a lot of gas stations up there.”

Ten minutes later I helped Charlie launch his plane back into the air and watched him fly off to his date in Whitehorse.

I hope it’s a good one, Charlie!

After a quick gas up and a stop at Pharmasave to fill a prescription, Russell hopped back in his plane and took off. Next stop? Prince George. David F. Rooney photo