Grateful for every day

My husband wanted an adventure vacation. “It’ll be fun,” he said, about a year ago as he showed me the website for a rafting trip down the Nahanni River located in Nahanni National Park Reserve. “Besides, we should see some of Canada’s north.”

As you know, Canada is a vast country with huge swaths of unpopulated land full of pristine lakes, dense forests, wildlife, and windswept tundra. A land that supported our indigenous peoples for thousands of years before the French and English ‘discovered’ it. In the summer, the north is referred to as the land of the midnight sun. (I wore eyeshades every night on the trip to block out the light.)

You can think of the Nahanni area as Canada’s Grand Canyon, although the river bends and twists its way through the sheer canyons that frame both sides. On many occasions we stopped to consider those who travelled the river so many years ago, some of them going upriver rather than down as we did. At certain times of the year the rapids are fierce and dangerous from spring runoff but in August they were much more manageable.

On the way in, we took a float plane – a four-seater Cessna – from Fort Simpson to Virginia Falls which is twice the height of Niagara Falls. Although I’m not a good flyer (I get airsick even on large planes), I’d taken precautions and after the first few minutes, was able to enjoy looking down on the Mackenzie River making its way to the arctic and the land dotted with small lakes and winding rivers followed by the sharp peaks of the Mackenzie mountains.

Each day was spectacular. After early morning porridge and coffee followed by a proper breakfast around 8am, we broke camp and loaded our gear back onto the rafts with the help of three cheerful, skilled guides – Nils, Max and Eric. They rowed and steered us downriver, stopping for occasional breaks and a hearty lunch while we enjoyed the ever-changing scenery. At times we stopped to gather wood for the evening’s camp and cooking fires. When Nils found the night’s camping spot, we put up our tents, blew up the air mattresses, organized sleeping bags and other items while dinner was being prepared.

The food was delicious: salads, steak, lamb kebabs, pork tenderloin, chicken, fresh veggies and fruit, homemade cinnamon buns, cake (!!), french toast, eggs Benedict, the dinners accompanied by beer and wine. I gained three pounds 🙂

Our enjoyment came to a screeching halt on the last day. We arrived in a tiny town called Nahanni Butte where two planes were scheduled to fly us back to Fort Simpson. Along with the pilot, Ian and I, and Jeff, one of our fellow travellers, climbed aboard a different four-seater Cessna and within minutes we were trundling down a dirt runway preparing to take off.

Liftoff is always a mystery to me – how is it possible that a plane, regardless of size, can suddenly be airborne? But there we were that day leaving the ground behind with the whirr of the engine taking us up. When the plane banked suddenly hard and left, wings tipped at a precarious angle, I had only a moment of two to wonder why before we plunged to the ground.

I screamed – who wouldn’t? – several times, but I can’t remember whether it was before we hit the ground or after or both. Suddenly, the pilot was asking if everyone was all right and urging us to get out of the plane. With blood streaming down my face, I scrambled across the pilot’s seat and took his hand to descend while my husband and Jeff emerged from the other side of the plane.

Several wonderful people helped us that day – a lovely woman called Marlene who ran the small health centre in Nahanni Butte; Kerry, Patrick and Christopher our medical evacuation team; the helicopter and air ambulance pilots who flew us first to Fort Liard and then to Yellowknife; Doctor Hannah Shoichet at Yellowknife’s Stanton Territorial hospital and the nurses – Laura, Paula, Stephanie, and Bovina; plus others whose names I don’t know.

Our daughter and son flew out to Yellowknife to help us make our way back to Toronto two days later, Ian nursing a very sore back and me with a totally bandaged head. (No, I won’t share that photo.)

We are eternally grateful for the miracle that kept all of us alive.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

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95 Responses

  1. What an absolutely harrowing experience. You definitely had a guardian angel in that plane with you! Hope you and your husband are feeling better soon.

  2. I’m so glad your adventure ended well. Montana author Betty Kuffel and her husband Tom crashed in a mountainous area near Whitefish. They were badly injured, but were rescued as was their German shepherd Valkyrie after she spent two weeks in the wilderness area. They have a “We Survived the Crash” party every year on the anniversary. Perhaps you could start that tradition at your house?

    1. Thanks, Pat. Someone accused me of doing anything to find material for a story!! It was intended as a little joke, of course. But I do have a new story brewing that’s set in WWII so a small plane might make an appearance in it. You never know.

  3. My Lord, it’s a wonder you’re alright! In one of my prior lives, I ran the aviation crash investigation program for the US Air Force, so let me say again–it’s a wonder you’re alright. That photo shows how close you were to a big stand of birches, so you had a skilled pilot to keep you away from that while performing a crash landing. A light aircraft mixing with trees is never a good thing and the results would have been much worse. Very, very pleased you’re able to write about this. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Many thanks for your good wishes, Jeffrey. Given your experience and the comment you made, I should retitle this “Doubly grateful for every day”.

  4. Mary, I’m certainly you guys are alright but even happier that you had that wonderful trip prior as a memory. Too awful to imagine it happening at the beginning!

  5. Mary, Mary, Mary! I am so very glad it all worked out like it did. It could have been so different. My gosh! Well, you have these beautiful photos and great memories of all of this wonderful trip to offset the crash. Thank goodness your pilot knew what to do. I imagine you’re savoring your morning coffee more than usual nowadays! Sending my best wishes for a speedy full recovery for all of you.

  6. How odd to have to hit a “Like” button in appreciation of your surviving the crash landing. A nod to all the comments above, Mary. And thanks for the pictures that show what a magnificent landscape you risked (more than anyone would suspect) to encounter.

  7. Good grief, Mary! The holiday looked idyllic, and then…
    Hopefully, you are over the worst of the reaction, but don’t be surprised if it comes back a few weeks later. It will then go.

    Screaming is fine when something like this happens. Screaming is human.

    All the best for the sore back; plenty of excuses for some pampering, I think in a hot spa tub followed by a gentle massage would help a lot.

    1. Sounds like a great idea, Alison! With a head wound, I’ve been reluctant to have a massage where I need to lie face down 🙂 But soon!!

  8. Wow! Your husband certainly got his wish–an adventure vacation. What an adventure. (You’ll no doubt spin some fine tales from that experience!)

  9. Thank God, Mary! You and Canada never stop amazing me! I was feeling jealous until I read the last section of your story… I hope you and everyone in the family are feeling better and recovering from the shocking experience with the plane.

    On another note, I recently read Time and Regret and loved it! I wrote you a little note on Facebook.

  10. Thankful that you walked away, even though scathed. Best wishes for a speedy recovery to you both. Physical and mental–those moments have a way of returning. Hugs!

  11. Gosh, Mary, I’m so glad you guys came out of this okay. Do take care of yourselves and, as already suggested by Pat Wahlberg, include it in one of your stories. Not many writers can give an authentic description of a plane crash!

    1. Many thanks for your good wishes, M.B. Lots of rest going on here. Just back at my laptop today after almost three weeks absence. Feels weird … but there is life beyond technology.

  12. I’m grateful that you and your husband are home safe after such a terrifying experience, still with many wonderful memories of Canada, though perhaps a bit too much adventure. We also are just home from two weeks in Canada, a much quieter trip (except for the killer wasps!). Be well. Thank you for sharing nearly all those pictures!

  13. My God! You are so calm and phlegmatic about it all! I’m hoping your injuries are no more than the way you describe. Take care and mend. PS: One dares to ask what experiences will appear in a novel at some point… 🙂

  14. As you say, Mary, a guardian angel was on duty for you that day! On the bright side you can fly with impunity in the future, as the chances of being involved in two incidents are infinitesimally small! So pleased to hear that you are all recovering.

  15. Hugs! Must have been much more harrowing than your description. Hope you and Ian continue to heal quickly.

    1. Many thanks, David. Definitely not a repeat event. We’re gradually returning to normal – but I haven’t done any writing at all. Hope you are doing well!

  16. My husband skidded our snow plow truck on black ice on the highway a few winters back and we rolled over an embankment, what was beyond I did not know. We had 800 pounds of loose rocks in the back, ballast for the plow, anyone of which could have come through the window. We had to be cut out with the Jaws that rescue crews use, but once out, we walked away, sans a single scratch. It’s a sobering experience and it took me longer to recover emotionally than I’d expected. After all, I thought, how very lucky we were! Be gentler with yourselves more often and longer than you think needed. Soon enough you’ll be enjoying all the memories of your wonderful trip and sharing all the stories with a smile. Even this last one.

  17. It sounds like it was an adventure you hadn’t planned on (is that perhaps a definition of adventure?)! Glad you are all ok and healing well. I hope it doesn’t prevent you for other adventures too. Seems like you were having a glorious time before the crash! Don’t let it stop you making new fantastic memories x

    Keep on keeping on

  18. Good Lord, woman! That sounds utterly terrifying! Well, at least it’s good fodder for book writing …

    With the exception of the terror of a plane crash, I envy your trip. I am an American raised in the desert of the Southwest and perhaps because I’ve had my fill of broiling parched earth I have always been fascinated with the Canadian North and hope to travel there significantly in the years to come. By the ground. 🙂

    1. I hope you get a chance to explore some of Canada, Xina Marie. It’s such a big country – like the States is – and we think we have some pretty amazing sites.

  19. Mary, thank heavens it was relatively minor injuries only. Beautifully told story, and I loved your photos.
    Will link to your survey results in the next issue of my newsletter Bobbing Around.

  20. I am sorry I didn’t see this earlier! I am so glad you are OK! However on the bright side, i see a book here-

  21. Wow! That must’ve been terrifying. I live in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories…believe it or not. My husband and I have been living here for 2 years, excluding the summers, where we have flown or driven to Newfoundland…yes, driven. I hate flying as well, but driving to NL took us 15 days. I’m glad you and you’re husband are okay.

  22. What a story you’ve shared! More than the experience of adventure on the ground and water, you ended up with an up in the air and down again adventure. So glad you’re both healing, and it’s amazing how often miracles come along and pick us up!

  23. Glad you’re ok. Not an experience anyone would sign up for. I’ve done lots of aviation, some of it terrifying, but never crashed. Now that it’s over though- what marvelous first hand insight and research for a book!
    Be well, and thanks for your work on the survey..

  24. Dear Mary,
    what a way to end your vacation! I hope both of you are on the mend.
    Best wishes!
    On the positive side: what are the odds of being in another plane crash. Big hug.

  25. OMG!!! You were very lucky. It takes things like this to make you appreciate how fragile life is and that we must enjoy every day with all its simple pleasures.

    1. Many thanks for your good wishes, Rosemary. My husband and I are all good … my only residual problem is hearing small planes go overhead gives me the creeps!

  26. What an amazing trip and an even more amazing survival from your crash. Somehow it seems more shocking coming at the end of a perfect and joyful holiday. You must have had a very skilled and calm pilot to escape far worse. I hope you are both fully recovered.

    And I echo what Rosemary says – wishing the good luck with finding a publisher for the new novel. I hope it is snapped up.

    1. Many thanks, Karen! Several people have said how terrific our pilot was to land us as he did. There will be no small planes in my future!!!

  27. Mary,
    A miracle indeed!
    It’s so grand that everyone made it out safely.
    And what an anti-climax for a great adventure.
    Then again, as you pointed out—such events make us look at everything in and around our lives with fresh eyes.
    In a way it is comforting to become aware of this immense sense of gratitude that washes over each new day … it is impossible not to when one has looked death in the face like that.
    Thank you for sharing and blessings with the healing process.

  28. I was in tears by the time I finished reading this post, woman! A truly terrifying experience that would give you a new brilliant life perspective (which is not necessarily something we think can come our way once we are in our later years.)

    I am so glad that you weren’t more seriously physically injured, and I pray that the emotional trauma continues to heal. Take care of yourself.

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