'I'm alive because of him': Father tells of doomed flight's final moments over Victoria
VICTORIA -- It was meant to be a fun father-son outing: a military pilot taking advantage of the rare February sunshine over Victoria to log some flight time and show his dad a view of the city from the cockpit of a single-engine plane.
But the outing would end with the two men hanging from their seatbelts, injured but alive, their borrowed Cessna upside down and filling with smoke in a Saanich blueberry field.
Warren McCall says his son is a hero.
"I'm alive because of him," the 54-year-old father from North Saanich tells CTV News.
Ryan McCall is a pilot out of Victoria's 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron. The 26-year-old has been racking up flying hours on his downtime in anticipation of flying one of the base's new Cyclone helicopters.
On Tuesday morning, the pair took off from the Victoria airport, cruising out over Cordova Bay where the southern cloud ceiling seemed limitless.
"We had lots of clearance out up to 2,500 feet," the elder McCall says. "We got to 1,300 feet and the engine stumbled."
While the clunk wasn't cause for serious alarm, Ryan banked the 40-year-old Cessna back towards the airport, just in case.
Almost immediately the cockpit began to fill with black smoke.
"He called a mayday and as we're making our turn to go back north, the engine starts spewing oil all over the windscreen," Warren says. "Within 15 seconds you could see zero."
Panicking, the father and son ripped open the cockpit's side windows and immediately started searching through swirling smoke for a piece of flat ground among the rugged hills.
"Ryan's now flying with his face pressed up against the side window which only opens up about two to three inches to see out with one eye," Warren says. "He's holding himself out there, his face in the wind and one hand on the control."
Warren estimates it was 90 seconds between the moment they heard the engine sputter and the moment it seized and died completely.
"When the engine seized, we didn't know it at the time, but it actually sheared the propeller right off and it fell to the ground. We found out after the fact when we were in the hospital. We couldn't see anything."
'Find a field! Find a field!'
Roofer Dale Albury was finishing a job on a Saanich rooftop when he looked up to see the doomed plane failing overhead, losing altitude and then losing its propeller over Mount Douglas Park.
Without an engine, the four-seat Cessna 172 was now a glider and its smoke-blind occupants were in serious trouble.
"Ryan's saying, 'Find a field! Find a field!" Warren says.
"I'm trying to look out my side and I point out a couple of things but he rejected those because we didn't have the altitude for them. Then I saw one up ahead and he said, 'That's the one.'"
The two men didn’t know it at the time, but "the one" was right next to a school full of children just arriving for class.
"All we knew was there was a field, totally empty, and we just knew we have to get over the power lines."
The Cessna cleared the power lines as a teacher at St. Margaret's School looked on.
"We clear the power lines, he put down the flaps and brought it right to the ground when the stall horn starts going off," Warren says.
"That berry field that looked very flat – we didn’t know about the irrigation hoses."
The field is crisscrossed with hoses that deliver water to the crops. One of the hoses caught on the landing gear, flipping the plane up onto its nose and over.
"Now we're hanging upside down," Warren says. "We pull the seatbelts off and crawl out and give each other a big hug. My son's a freaking hero."
The McCalls walked away relatively unscathed from the ordeal. Warren says their knees, shins, necks and shoulders are battered from bouncing around in the cockpit, but otherwise they're fine.
"I feel like I just finished a rugby game or something," Warren says. "But we know we're so lucky to walk away from that thing."
The plane wreckage was hauled away from the Beckwith Avenue farm Tuesday afternoon. The Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate.