Canada

True Grit in the wide blue yonder

Suzanne Zwarun June 25 1979
Canada

True Grit in the wide blue yonder

Suzanne Zwarun June 25 1979

True Grit in the wide blue yonder

Canada

Calgary

Although the decor is as fancy as a gold inlaid saddle, The Ranchman's in Calgary has long been a favorite watering hole for professional cowboys. But the cowpokes gathering there recently have lost the desire to party ever since four of their rodeo buddies disappeared in a Piper Cherokee May 22. One night, someone frustrated by the waiting and wondering started to pass around a hat. The hat circled the bar and returned filled to the brim with $1,500—money to finance the continuing search for the missing men. That response prompted the nightclub’s staff (which includes two former Calgary Stampede queens) to hold an auction a few nights later. Musicians, including Ian Tyson, donated their talents and the rodeo cowboys offered to sell their best and brightest belongings—spurs, saddles, a silver-mounted bridle, a diamond ring. Lynn Jensen tossed in the gold and silver belt buckle that identifies him as 1977 rodeo champion and it sold for $780. Dwane Daines contributed a trophy saddle he had won in competition with one of the missing cowboys and it went for $2,900. By midnight, the auction had raised $30,000 for the Cowboys Search Fund.

Calgary cowboys were anything but alone in their grief and generosity. During the three weeks after the cowboys vanished on a flight from Salem, Oregon, to San Francisco, almost $150,000 poured in from rodeo fans and competitors in small towns and cities across Alberta and Saskatchewan. Meanwhile, cowboys from small places such as Gleichen and Claresholm, Strathmore and Sundre, flew and drove to search and rescue headquarters in Medord, Ore., to help comb 50,000 square miles of some of the most rugged country in the United States.

The cowboys, many flying their own planes, searched hundreds of mountainsides, thousands of canyons and Crater Lake National Park, featuring an 8,000foot inactive volcano. The non-flyers worked as spotters, day after weary day, in temperatures that hit 35°C outside and 44°C in the cockpits of planes. One of several psychics who volunteered their services collapsed from heat prostration and had to be taken to hospital. The psychics were hoping to pick up vibes that would lead them to the crash site.

The Americans involved in the search were clearly overwhelmed. “I’m truly amazed at these people,” said Major Bernie Bennett, mission co-ordinator for the U.S. Civil Air Patrol. “The plane has been down a long time and most people would have given up by now, but they’re determined to stick with it.” Inspired perhaps by the Canadians’ determination, the official search was kept going for 14 days—four days more than any previous search. When the U.S. agency finally called it off, some, like Major Bennett, stayed on to help. Medford commercial pilot Doug Elfving booked off woik to fly free for the Canadians.

“We’re not leaving here till we find something,” said Ivan Daines of Innisfail, echoing what the Canadian cow-

boys repeated again and again, while they passed up prize money and points at rodeos where they had been scheduled to appear. The missing men—pilot Brian Claypool, 25, of Saskatoon, twotime Canadian bull-riding champion, Lee Coleman, 20, of Pierceland, Sask., whose brother, Mel, is the Canadian saddle-bronc champion, Calvin Bunney, 19, of Duchess, Alta., and Gary Logan, 22, of Sundre, Alta.—are family to the other rodeo riders. Explained searcher Dan Lowry of Rocky Mountain House: “We’re all here because these guys are friends of ours.”

Even with the official search ended, up to a dozen planes are still flying daily patrols at an estimated cost of $4,000 per day. To the awe of those on the ground, the cowboys fly with the same flair they ride broncs. Dale (Trapper) Trottier has been slow-rolling his plane through mountain passes to give his spotters a better view of the ground. A former bush pilot, Bill Moynihan, dips low into every canyon, terrifying his observers. Incredibly, they’ve found four previously undiscovered plane wrecks. “If I’m ever down,” said a local flyer, “I would want people like these Canadians looking for me.”

Suzanne Zwarun