A potentially fatal incident was prevented at a small Fortune Minerals camp in the Klappan region when Conrad Larson, a Lakelse Air helicopter mechanic, disarmed a crazed 37-year-old pilot wielding a shotgun on July 12.
The pilot, who had been acting out of sorts for a couple of days, according to a source close to the incident, began firing shotgun rounds at his own helicopter around 1:30 a.m. causing more than $500,000 in damage to the machine.
Larson, 22, who grew up in the Kispiox Valley, was observing the pilot from the office tent about 300 metres away.
He also saw the pilot jump in the helicopter and attempt a hot-start, which is starting a helicopter with the throttle engaged.
“When it lit, a ball of flames came out the exhaust pipe,” Larson said, adding the pilot also shot flares at a fuel container during the incident.
The pilot then mounted his ATV and started back for the main camp area, where the Dease Lake RCMP had already been notified of his actions.
Larson with his own shotgun, which is allowed for protection from bears, attempted to avoid a confrontation with the erratically-behaving pilot.
“I stepped into the office when I saw him coming down the hill back toward camp, all I could see what his headlight coming down the hill. I thought he was gonna pass by the office but unfortunately for me he turned and entered the tent I was in,” Larson said.
Unknown to Larson was the fact the pilot’s shotgun had been jammed when he attempted to load flares into the weapon. Larson had hid his shotgun under a table in the office tent, but another turn led to its discovery by the pilot.
“Just after he entered he slipped and landed on his back. He saw my shotgun which I hid under the table and started reaching for it. I snatched it quickly before he got it, fought his shotgun out of his hands and ran outside and stashed both shotguns in a bush behind the camp,” Larson said.
Both guns were later located and hidden in another tent under guard.
The pilot’s unusual behaviour continued after being disarmed, Larson said.
“He was incoherent, walking around camp, waking people up telling them that someone had messed with his helicopter,” Larson said.
Eventually the on-site project manager and others were able to get the pilot settled down and in the kitchen area, where Larson visited the man shortly afterward to some surprise.
“When I decided to approach him he was glad to see me and didn’t recall me taking his shotgun, which I found very confusing. We all kept making conversation with him in the kitchen to keep him calm and distracted. He told me that someone had damaged our helicopter. We went along with it, trying not to confront him until the RCMP showed up,” Larson said.
The RCMP had to wait until daylight to fly into the camp, approximately 103 km southeast of Dease Lake, according to a July 18 RCMP press release.
The pilot is scheduled to appear in a Dease Lake court Aug. 27 and is being charged with mischief with the potential to be charged with firearm related charges as well, according to the RCMP release.
“We are certainly thankful that no one was injured during this incident and thankful that others at the camp had the mindfulness to seize an opportunity and safely disarm the man,” Corp. Dan Moskaluk said.
Larson also commended his colleagues.
“Everyone involved, which by morning was most of the camp, was all on the same page and did an excellent job working together to keep the situation under control. It was very impressive,” Larson said.
The pilot remains under medical surveillance, but Larson said he hopes for the best as far as the estranged pilot is concerned.
“He never once threatened to harm anyone at any point during those early morning hours, but we were extremely alert due to the mental condition he was in. I was the engineer on the job, and worked with him before. He is an excellent pilot and good to work with,” Larson said.
Lakelse Air officials are withholding comment about the incident until the RCMP investigation is concluded.