Atlin's Anguish

Bush Pilot Theresa Bond and the Crash of Taku Air Flight 2653

Brendan Lillis

On September 27, 1986, pilot Theresa Bond and five passengers took off on a routine flight from Atlin, BC, in her beloved de Havilland Beaver. The Taku Air passenger list that day included local politician Al Passarell, his wife, and three of Atlin’s most prominent citizens–including larger-than-life Atlin Inn owner Joe Florence. After an uneventful eighty minutes the plane crossed the edge of Dease Lake, turned south and descended for landing. But something went tragically wrong in those last few minutes of Flight 2653. According to eyewitnesses the Beaver nosedived into the lake at full cruising speed. As the plane sunk into the icy depths of the lake, only pilot Theresa Bond managed to escape. All five passengers drowned.

The small town of Atlin was torn apart by the tragedy. Years of endless hearings and inquiries supplied few answers, only fueling the sorrow and anger of grieving family and friends. In time the furor surrounding the inquest dissipated, but for Theresa, the flames of her own private hell continued to consume her. Unable to live with the guilt and loss she had caused the families of her passengers, Bond plummeted into despair.

Atlin’s Anguish is a brother’s dedicated and loving journey to understanding what happened that day on Dease Lake. Was it simply a lack of experience that caused Bond to lose control at such a crucial moment, or were there other circumstances that lead to the crash of Flight 2653?

Beaver Solo Over Paradise

Friday, May 7, 1982

Atlin Lake, British Columbia, Canada

It was dark when she awoke. She had slept fitfully, charged with excitement and anticipation. She left her husband and sons sleeping, and crept into the kitchen to make herself her customary mug of Irish Breakfast tea. Then, mug in hand, with her flying manuals and notes tucked under her arm, she slipped out of the house and walked down Rant Avenue to the dock.

Although it was not yet 5:00 a.m., the northern sky was already flecked with slivers of silver, orange and gold. She sat on the edge of the dock, her tiny frame turned toward the east, waiting for the sun and enjoying the quiet of the pre-dawn, revelling in the silent isolation.

The first time she’d seen the de Havilland Beaver, tied to this very dock eight years earlier, she’d known she wanted to fly it. There was something irresistible about the bright orange and white bush plane, and the freedom, adventure — and yes, the danger — it represented.

And now her Beaver solo day was here.

The slivers slowly turned to slashes and then the sun burst above the horizon, its rays stretching across the sky and striking the craggy peak of Atlin Mountain across the lake. She moved to the end of the dock and sat facing the imposing mass of the mountain. Slowly, the light crept down the mountain, washing it in ruby light and casting its reflection on the mirror-like surface of the lake, the jagged peak’s reflection reaching toward Theresa’s feet dangling over the dock.

She surrendered herself to the majesty of her environment for a while, serene, calm, at peace with herself and her surroundings, the vast lake still, the massive mountains and the remote hamlet all silent in the dawn stillness.

It was the perfect day for her maiden Beaver solo.

She had begun flying the 15 AC Sedan Aeronca belonging to her husband, Dick, the previous August. And, after just twenty-six hours of training, she took it up solo on August 25. As thrilling as her first twenty-minute spin around the lake had been, she knew that today’s flight would be completely different. It would be real flying, navigating her way through the mountains, following the winding course of the Taku River to Juneau, Alaska. In the Beaver. Alone.

She finished her tea and flipped open her manuals. For the next three hours, she rehearsed in her mind the sequence of events prior to take off, silently mouthing her pre-flight routine and the start-up procedure, imagining her engine starting up and visualizing takeoff. She pictured the path of the Taku River as it twisted southeast and then southwest through the Coast Mountains into Alaska, before disgorging just south of Juneau, the capital of Alaska. The Taku River route was over 170 kilometres from Atlin to Juneau, with over 130 of those through steep and narrow canyons containing the turbulence of the Taku River. Years later, I was to experience first hand exactly how hazardous this trip can be.