In August of 1997, members of the Clearwater RCMP and ambulance service joined an ad hoc team of summer people at Lac Des Roches and rescued the sole survivor of a small plane crash at Tobe Lake.
The events of that night became a turning point in the life of the survivor, a young man from Prince George named Michael Schneider. Three other family members died in the crash.
His rescue is now the focal point of a new book, Sometimes It Takes A Bad Day To Make A Good Man, by author C.H. Boyer. It’s the true story of how two generations of Canadians in British Columbia surmounted hardships and fought their way to prosperity and a better life. Schneider, 29 years old at the time, was on the losing end of struggles with marijuana and alcohol when his family’s floatplane crashed taking off at the small lake.
His parents, Bruno and Hannelore Schneider, had already survived a “lifetime of plane crashes.” Born in Germany just before the Second World War, they both saw their homes bombed and burned as the war swept across their homeland. As young children and teenagers, they struggled to survive, searching for bits of coal fallen from trains or gleaning potatoes from harvested fields.
Bruno and Hannelore eventually met, as young adults, fell in love, and arrived in Canada with just a few dollars to their name. Working day and night and seven days a week, they built a thriving business developing energy-saving technology for Prince George’s papermill industry.
Then, at the peak of their success, Bruno died of cancer at age 40. Hannelore carried on and eventually married her husband’s close friend and the man who delivered both of her children, Dennis Clark, a prominent Prince George doctor. Clark, a former RCAF pilot, and an experienced floatplane pilot was at the controls that afternoon at Tobe Lake.
After the crash, it was now Michael’s turn to survive and start over. Alone, badly injured, and miles from the nearest human, he crawled out of the lake and began clawing his way through blowdown. He was hoping to find a larger lake, one with a camp or fishermen. He collapsed less than a quarter-mile from Tobe.
The trails and access roads around the lake had been ditched and closed at the time to let the area recover from logging. Fortunately, long-time Lac Des Roches visitors Dale Bernier and his brother-in-law Jim Wood were exploring the area and driving in and out of those ditches in search of pan-fryers, small game fish. They chanced upon young Schneider before the bears did.
“He would not have lasted very long,” said Bernier. “Something would have homed in on him.”
Twelve hours later, thanks to the efforts of a half-dozen visitors at Eagle Island at Lac Des Roches, including Dale Bernier’s wife, LaVerne, and RCMP Constable Jon Stuart, Michael Schneider arrived safely at the hospital in Kamloops.
Among the other visitor-volunteers that night were registered nurse Gayle Carrier and her husband, RCMP Staff Sergeant Ralph Carrier, from Alberta, and Vancouver firefighter and paramedic Steve Raby. Gayle and Steve helped stabilize Schneider until Clearwater paramedics Catherine Buis and Bruce Whitelaw arrived with their ambulance. Meanwhile, RCMP Sergeant Bryon Hodgkin and Clearwater ambulance head Robin Mann joined local conservation officer Wayne Chayer and searched the crash site by flashlight at Tobe Lake.
The story has a happy ending. Michael lived with his mother, Hannelore, at Shuswap Lake for the next three years while he recovered from his injuries and began the slow process of turning his life around.
Today, Michael, now 51, and a highly respected master carpenter, lives in Kelowna with his wife Elyse and their two teenage boys. Hannelore lives nearby.