Armed Forces helicopter crew met with grilled cheese and kindness after being grounded along Fraser River

The Canadian Armed Forces 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron landed a CH-146 Griffon in Yale, B.C., on Nov. 23, 2021.  (Christina Morrison - image credit)
The Canadian Armed Forces 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron landed a CH-146 Griffon in Yale, B.C., on Nov. 23, 2021. (Christina Morrison - image credit)

When heavy fog forced a Canadian Armed Forces helicopter crew from Quebec to make an emergency landing last week on the banks of the Fraser River near Yale, B.C., they were not expecting the series of generous events that followed.

Fog and darkness had rolled in quickly on Nov. 23 after Capt. Julien Brideau and his crew departed Boston Bar on their way back to the airport in Abbotsford.

The crew of four, which included a B.C. doctor, had been on a medical mission, helping flood-impacted patients in the region.

"On our way back, the fog banks were getting bigger as we were winding down the valley," said Brideau, with the 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron. "We made the good decision to land."

But the only spot wide enough was a sandbank by the Fraser River, and with rain in the forecast, he worried the river could flood.

Nearby, Yale residents Randall Gardner and Melina Barnes heard the sound of the helicopter's rotors, so they set off to investigate.

As Brideau saw their two flashlights approaching, he had his crew turn off the helicopter.

Gardner shared the pilot's concerns about flooding and suggested a better spot uphill.

"I went up the hill with them and looked at the area, and as we were discussing, I was like, 'Yeah it's a little tight still," Brideau said.

"[Gardner] said, 'I've got a chainsaw, just tell me which trees you want me to cut.'"

 MCpl Nicolas Alonso/Canadian Armed Forces
MCpl Nicolas Alonso/Canadian Armed Forces

Gardner sawed down trees to create a makeshift landing pad for the helicopter and used his flashlight to guide it to the safer location by the highway.

Brideau said it's just one example of the teamwork and cooperation he's seen from ordinary British Columbians since the squadron's deployment from its base in Quebec.

"They were really happy to help," Brideau said.

And they weren't the only ones.

Brideau said someone from the fire department in Hope arrived with keys to his cabin in Yale and offered it up for the night.

"It gives me a good feeling that people are positive about our impact here."

Christina Morrison
Christina Morrison

Gardner told CBC News he and his friends didn't do anything particularly special, just what he felt any Canadian would do.

"It was a great experience, but hard to enjoy the moment when so much of the world around you is washing away," he said in an email. "In any hard times, a helping hand comes from anyone, anywhere. Thanks to every Canadian that has helped during the floods."

Another person involved in the landing said she just did what was needed, and expressed her gratitude to the Canadian Armed Forces for their help during B.C.'s devastating floods.

Christina Morrison helped carry a battery for Gardner's saw, and helped Barnes stop traffic on the highway so the helicopter could land nearby. They also made grilled cheese sandwiches and soup for the crew.

"Being a volunteer in an emergency helicopter landing is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime story," said Morrison, an Aldergrove resident who was visiting Barnes and Garrison in Yale. "I don't believe I'll ever be involved in landing a helicopter again.

"They were nice people coming here to help out. It's nice to hear a lot of people coming together."

Barnes told CBC News she won't forget meeting the helicopter crew; Brideau gave her his 430 squadron badge as a thank you.

"I'm thankful I had the company I had at my house that night to help out," Barnes told CBC News. "We did what we did to help stranded people."

She said she'll treasure the squadron patch. And she and Gardner plan to use one of the evergreens they cut down for the landing spot as their Christmas tree.

Christina Morrison
Christina Morrison