Plane stranded at Alert
An attempt to rescue vintage aircraft creates new set of problems

Dawn Ostrem
Northern News Services

Alert ( May 22/00) - An antique biplane stranded near the North Pole was rescued May 12 by the amateur American aviator who left it there, but it has become stranded once again.

This time it has been left at the Canadian Forces communications research base in Alert -- on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island.

"He needs to get it out of Alert," said the Northern area operations manager Capt. Rick Regan. "He was initially going to leave it there.

Gustavus McLeod flew his vintage Boeing PT-17 Stearman biplane to the Pole in April on a thrill-seeking expedition but had to make an emergency landing near the 86th parallel on his way back to Eureka. He said the reason for engine trouble was a result of bad gasoline.

McLeod was going to leave it on the ice. He returned to recover the plane May 12, after Environment Canada showed concern over abandoning the aircraft since the ice it was left on is expected to melt in June.

Engine trouble once again fouled his attempt to return to the Eureka weather station, a problem he also blamed on bad gasoline. He had to land at Alert, which is run by the director of information services as a part of the Department of National Defence.

"It would be akin to dumping an old car in their driveway and that's basically what they told Mr. McLeod -- to move his plane," Regan said. "He was allowed to land it there only because it was an emergency situation."

Regan explained that people aren't usually allowed to just land there due to the nature of the base.

"There's sensitive information there," he explained. "It's a gathering point for signals involved in communications research. It's generally a no-fly area and not used as an operations base for aircraft flying through the area."

Bruce Kendall, the initial backer of the expedition, said he and McLeod are discussing how to now get the plane back to the United States.

"This is all speculation but I'm guessing we might fire up a Beech 18 we have here and fly it up to Alert and get the Stearman," he said. "(Gus) might take the safer way out and take the wings off and have it shipped (from Resolute instead of flying it all the way)."

Kendall said they are looking at going back up in a matter of weeks.

"I'm sure there's a lot of room up there," he added. "I guess I don't know why it couldn't stay there a month or two."