“Miss Piggy” is a C-46 Commando transport aircraft which crashed shortly after departing Churchill, Canada, in 1979. Operated by Lamb Air, it was named “Miss Piggy” because of all the freight the plane could carry and it even flew pigs.
As part of a once in a lifetime trip, my friend Peter Barnes visited Churchill and Miss Piggy in July 2013 and he was kind enough to share his thoughts and some pictures with us. In Peter’s words.
“The town is an historic trading post on the coast of Hudson Bay in Manitoba and it’s about as far north as it’s possible to go without a pack of sled dogs. It has no roads going into it and I travelled up from Winnipeg on a 36 hour sleeper train that is furnished with lovely 1950’s rolling stock, friendly staff and a limitless supply of hot pancakes.
The journey was hypnotising: I saw a landscape that gradually changed from arable land through boreal forests and finally into arctic tundra. They say that you need two trees to make a Christmas tree in Churchill: the wind from the north bears down so hard that the stunted trees only grow branches on one side! Even the train has to bow to the environment: the lines are built on constantly shifting permafrost and it has to travel slowly to avoid de-railing.
Once we were settled into our accommodations we began to explore the sights and stories and the wildlife of this most unusual town. We approached the wreck of Miss Piggy from a dirt track and our driver pulled a few wide circles round the trees and sounded the horn continuously for about 20 seconds. “Can’t be too careful” he said, “she’s quite popular with polar bears!” These magnificent animals come inland during the summer looking for shade after the sea ice has melted and I can see why a large aluminium tube might be an attractive option.
I might have dismissed the warning as theatrics had it not been for a close shave the previous morning. We had taken a short walk down to Churchill’s beach – only just outside the built-up area of the town – and we spent a few minutes watching the beautiful beluga whales out in the bay. But then we suddenly became aware that we were being stalked: a polar bear maneuvered itself into a position downwind and was stealthily exiting the sea towards us no more than 200m away. They say that the one thing you should not do when faced with a polar bear is to run, but I can tell you we made for a pretty darn fast walk! There really are polar bears, and you really do have to take them seriously.
Once we were sure that we weren’t going to end up as an in-flight snack on board Miss Piggy, we began exploring. It is a sight like nothing else, a moment frozen in time. It was too remote for the airframe ever to be salvaged and it continues to sit there, forever a testament to a successful emergency landing. The cargo has gone, as has one of the engines and the contents of the instrument panel. But other than that, it’s pristine and you could imagine it happened yesterday. Broken trees poke out from underneath the wings where they were snapped off. Dents and rips in the plane’s skin match up with lumps and bumps on the huge boulders that sit underneath. Considering what rough terrain this is, it’s amazing that the plane landed in one piece and that the crew survived. Everywhere there are signs of movement halted abruptly. An engine sits where it came to rest a few metres in front of the wing. A prop with bent tips lies half submerged in a pool of water. And the positions of the control surfaces, half shredded but still intact, record the last flight inputs made by the pilots.
What a dramatic night that must have been.”
My thanks to Peter for his words and photographs. All photographs are copyright Peter Barnes and are used with permission.