Military 03

Gary Louis Flath

July 27, 1935 ~ July 17, 2022 (age 86)

Obituary

With sad hearts, we say goodbye to Gary, our husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle, and friend, passing away at home on July 17, 2022, just 10 days short of his 87th Birthday.

He will be lovingly remembered and greatly missed by his wife Eileen, children Nina (Gerry); Jonathan, Gary, Shannon: Carolyn; Steven, Lisa, George, Dallas: Julie (Chuck): Alanna (Paul); Myles, Justin: Erica; Tye, Nevaeh:  7 great – grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. Gary was preceded by his mother, Nina (Baker), both fathers, John Carlton (killed in action 1944) and Le Barron (Barry) and brother Dan.

Gary was a man of all seasons. He was a hunter, fisherman, card player, star gazer, scenic photographer, runner, curler, golfer, baseball, and hockey player (including the Old Timers League).

Gary enjoyed a full life of travelling and spending time with his family and numerous friends with whom he greatly enjoyed sharing stories of his many life experiences and adventures.

His special memories were playing in the Cyprus Hills, Elkwater Lake where the family had a store with his brother Dan. Gary loved the warm Chinook winds blowing on his face while overlooking the South Saskatchewan River in Medicine Hat and the hockey rink. His first solo flight in the helicopter, helicopter flying in the Rocky Mountains at 100 Ft. Fishing in Northern Quebec and the Arctic. 

Gary Louis was born and raised in Medicine Hat, Alberta till August 1950. He attended grades 1 to 9 in Medicine Hat. The family lived in a log cabin while his father was a schoolteacher. His father was subsequently killed in action while serving in the RCN 1944, while on the HMCS Valleyfield. His mother remarried in 1950 to an RCAF Flight Engineer, (Barry Anderson), who was flying Cansos with 413 Sqn at Rockcliffe. They lived in Ottawa from Aug to Dec 1950.


The family moved to Stn Chatham, N.B. home of the fighter Operational Training Unit, (OTU). He went to Chatham High School and while there, Gary joined the track team, hockey team, football team and was a classmate of Brian Mulroney.


As a teenager he would sit at the end of the runway watching Vampires, Mustangs, T-33s and F-86 Sabres come and go.

 As a 16-year-old Army reservist, Gary managed to get a flight in a T-Bird, organized by his father. That was all it took for Gary to spend the rest of his life in aviation.

In 1954, he went to Military College (CMR), even played hockey for them. Only a year later he enrolled in the RCAF (Oct 54, in Centralia Ontario). 

He spent a year in Winnipeg training as a navigator, receiving his Navigator Wings in 1956. Then once graduated from training (CF 100) was posted to RCAF Stn Cold Lake as a “Back Seater”, for Pilot Don Carney.

From 1957 -1960, Gary was a Nav AI on CF-100s at 413 at Bagotville. Three years later he went back to Cold Lake as an instructor, from 1960 -1962. 

From 1962 -1965, P/O Flath served in Chatham with 416 Sqn ops on CF-101s. 

He was promoted to F/L during this period, but just in time to find himself on the famous “500” downsizing list of short service officers. An Army Recruiting Center offered him a possibility for pilot training in the future. So, in 1964 he transferred to the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps and completed ‘brown’ training with Pete Armstrong, Peter Davis, Sam Allingham, George Zvanitajs and Alex Home at the RCASC School in Camp Borden.

After a year’s ‘on job training’ with 2 Tpt Coy and demonstrating his prowess as a hockey player, Lt. Flath was selected for pilot training at RCAF Stn Centralia in Apr 66. His course would be the last given to Army pilot candidates at Centralia. On his first flight, he flew through hydro power lines.

After successfully mastering the Chipmunk, he proceeded to Rivers, Manitoba in Sep 1966 and trained on the L-19s on LAPC 44. He and fellow course mates received their Army Pilot Wings in Dec 66. The spring of 67 was devoted to learning the intricacies of rotary wing flight at the Basic Helicopter Training Unit (BHTU) also at the Canadian Joint Air Training Center, Rivers, Man.

June 1967 -1972, he was posted to 1 Transport Helicopters Platoon in St. Hubert, Quebec. In 1968 1 TPT Helicopter Platoon became 450 Squadron. It was then moved to Uplands Ontario in 1970. During these five years he would fly over 2000 hours on the CH 113A with 1THP/450 Sqn at St. Hubert, Quebec and Uplands, Ontario.

In 1972 and for the next 5 years Capt. Flath instructed on the CH 136 at 3 CFFTS Portage la Prairie. He would eventually lead the “Dragon Fly Formation Demo Team.” During the 5 years at Portage Gary flew during his annual leave for several civilian helicopter operators from Quebec to BC. In Mar 76 he graduated from the Okanagan Helicopters Mountain Flying Course. His highlights at CFB Portage was dinner with Douglas Bader, Adolf Galland, Jimmy Doolittle, Johnny Johnson plus other WW2 fighter pilots. He was also Honorary PMC of the Junior Ranks Club.

Capt. Flath left Portage with over 2000 hours on the CH 136. 

1977 -1982 Gary would spend the next 5 years in CFB Comox with 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron and was involved in many search and rescue missions. 

In July 1981 he went to Ottawa to receive the Star of Courage for the perilous rescue mission on Sept 13, 1980, in Washington State, where he rescued surviving crew members of a Navy Helicopter that itself crashed the night before. (The citation is enclosed) 

On October 4th of the same year, he picked up 48 passengers out of lifeboats in a stormy sea of 30-foot swells and gale force winds when the ocean liner Prinsendam caught fire in the Gulf of Alaska.

 

Captain Gary Flath did something that day that is still talked about today. Captain Flath was getting low on fuel and talked to the Flight Engineer on board to calculate the fuel to the second and time to return to land. The reason was they were getting down to the last couple of crew in the lifeboat and Gary knew if he left - when he returned the crew would not be in the lifeboat due to sea state.

   Gary made that very last hoist and returned to Yakutat, Alaska.

   Here is how the Chief of Defense Staff Unit Commendation for outstanding devotion to duty read:

 

   "On 4 October 1980, 442 Squadron participated in an operation that gained it the international attention it still enjoys today. When the liner Prinsendam caught fire in the Gulf of Alaska, the 442 Squadron's Labradors and Buffalo were quick to react. The second Labrador on scene was commanded by Captain Gary Flath. Under Gary's guidance, the crew of "Rescue 303" hoisted 16 passengers from a lifeboat and transported them to the oil tanker MV Williamsburg. The Labrador crew repeated the operation three times before being forced to return to Yakutat, Alaska, for fuel. When they landed, their fuel gauges read empty; at the end of the runway their engine flamed out. The squadron was awarded the Chief of Defense Staff Unit Commendation for outstanding devotion to duty.”

 

He flew his last official trip in the Regular Forces on 24 Dec 1981 in a dual CF-101 on a supersonic combat profile mission. He liked to say that he “left with a bang.”

1982 Gary retired from the Canadian Armed Forces leaving as a lifetime member of the Para Rescue Association.


In Mar 82 he was hired on as Chief Pilot with Shirley Air in Edmonton. The economic crash of 81-82 caused the company to fail after Gary had only worked for them for a few months. But he rebounded quickly and flew from Jun 82 to 1 Apr 94 for the Gov’t of Alberta, averaging 650 hours per year. 

During this period, he returned to the Forces as a ‘Class C’ reservist and flew on two deployments. The first was in 1988 with 408 Sqn in the Sanai, Egypt for 6 months from Apr to Sep on the CH-135s. His second tour was in 1990 with 89 RWAH Tegucigalpa, Honduras to shut down “the Contras” in Nicaragua, flying the CH 136s and CH 135s. Here he remained as a Reserve Pilot with 408 Sqn until his 56th birthday in Jul 91.

During 1994 to 2001, after the Gov’t of Alberta sold their helicopter fleet, he moved to Northern Mountain Helicopters in Prince George, employed as their mountain flying instructor and training officer. Flying B-206 Helicopter in Smithers, BC, A-Star Helicopter - Rap-Attack for Alberta government and B - 212 Rap -Attack for B.C. government 

During five winters Gary was fighting fires in Chile, South America, including delivering an A-Star machine from Prince George to Conception, Chile. The trip took 79 hours and crossed the Andes Mountains at 13000 ft. He also flew Arctic flying contracts. Then spent 2 years in the Sudan in Africa flying in the oil patch. While there was Involved in a Medevac after a rebel attack in which 28 people were wounded. Gary also was Involved in a very dark night rescue of a Shell Oil pilot who was shot and seriously wounded. The pilot survived.

In May 2004 Gary worked for Campbell Helicopters out of Abbotsford, BC. - Rap-Attack for both Alberta and Manitoba governments. 


2004 -2008 was a Training Pilot and Mountain Flying Instructor for Quantum Helicopters in Terrace B.C. 


Incidentals: survived two crashes - the first in the fall of 1993 while flying in northern Albert for the Alberta Government; and the second in 1995 while flying for Northern Mountain Helicopters in Smithers. No injuries (My pride) I walked away both times and no one was seriously injured. In 1996 while flying in Chile, cut a hydro power line with one of the blades.


Gary had flown in the Canadian Forces in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 1990s, logging over 25000 hours of flying during his 53 years of flying, retiring at 73 in 2008.

The quote his own words “As I look back, I just want to say it has been a great privilege and honor to have served and been associated with all members of the Canadian Military and especially those of us who wore the Army Pilot Wings.”


Captain Gary Louis Flath SC CD retired to Courtenay on Vancouver Island and was active with the RCAF Association, Canadian Legion, Lions Club and Evergreen Seniors until passing away 17 July 2022.


Captain Gary Louis Flath

• Courtenay, British Columbia

Decorations for Bravery

• Star of Courage

o Awarded on: July 3, 1981

o Invested on: September 18, 1981

Captain Gary Louis Flath, S.C.
Star of Courage

Capt. Flath of the Canadian Armed Forces was the Aircraft Commander of a helicopter which, on September 13, 1980, rescued, in most perilous circumstances, the two survivors of the crew of a crashed U.S. Navy helicopter at Whatcom Peak in Washington State. The wreckage and injured men were located on a rock wall at 2200 metre level of the mountain. Forty-knot shifting, gusting winds were blowing around the top, creating down drafts; the cold temperature required engine anti-ice which limited power; constantly alternating cloud conditions and deteriorating weather made the task of deploying rescue technicians extremely hazardous. Capt. Flath, in an incredible test of nerves, courage and will power, and with outstanding professional skill, was able to position his helicopter on the edge of the glacier, hovered in and out of clouds for approximately thirty minutes, dangerously close to the mountain rock face, while his crew recovered the injured personnel. The weather closed immediately after. His gallantry saved the lives of the men who had crashed two days prior, were seriously injured and would not have survived another night on the mountain. 


 

Memorial service to take place Sept 18, 2022, from 1pm to 3 pm at Native Sons Hall, 360 Cliffs Ave., Courtenay BC Followed by reception at the Canadian Legion in Courtney.


 

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to:


 

The Poppy Fund, Legion Branch # 17, 367 Cliffe Ave., Courtenay, BC V9N 2J1


 

Please join us for a Memorial Service honoring Gary’s Life.

 

Sunday September 18,2022 at 1 pm at the Native Sons Hall,

360  Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay, BC.

Reception to follow at the Canadian Legion Branch #17

367 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay,BC.


Services

Celebration of Life
Sunday
September 18, 2022

1:00 PM
Native Sons Hall (Courtney)

Video is available for this event


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