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Monday, April 1, 2013

Interlude: A Volcanic Hoax!

#avgeek #aviation #aprilfool

(And Happy Birthday, Carl!)

To celebrate one of my favorite days of the year, here's an excerpt from my novel, The Last Bush Pilots. (see for more info.)


In this scene, bush pilot and notorious practical joker Ralph Olafsen lights an extinct volcano on fire for April Fool's Day—with the local Sheriff as the fool!

Earlier this year, I did a "Blogroll," wherein I cast the "Dream Movie" of my book.

Who plays Ralph Olafsen?  Johnny Depp! 

actor, hollywood, johnny depp, last bush pilots, aviation

See, "That's How I Blog Roll!" (
for the rest of the cast!

Oh, and PS: this incident is based on a TRUE STORY, and is considered one of the TOP TEN APRIL FOOL'S JOKES OF ALL TIME!

april fool's day, april 1, alaska, bush pilot


CHAPTER 6:  Ralph Olafsen

Ralph Olafsen was a walking contradiction.
He was a hermit.  And a joker.  He was a soldier.  And a peacenick.  He was a creative artist who wasted his talent sketching unflattering characatures of those he thought little of, or those he admired.  People rarely knew into which category they fell.
A wallflower if given the chance, Ralph kept to himself.  Any patron stepping into the Red Dog Saloon on Drunk Pilot Night would invariably spot the legendary Jake Whitakker first.  And Ralph last.  Even his faded, chocolate brown flight jacket, so often the proud trademark of the bush pilot, instead seemed to camouflage him in the dark tavern or the airport lounge.  But if a pilot’s skills were truly based on the distress of his leather, Ralph’s tattered rag would proclaim him a sky god.
Ralph’s flying career, however, had started quite by accident; he was drafted.  If not for Viet Nam, he would have been happy making trinkets in Arkansas with his wife Misty.  But the backwoods hillbilly with the A.S. degree in Arts took to Army helicopters like a salmon to stream.
Much to Misty’s relief, Ralph missed a tour of’Nam by three short months.  Instead, the Army sent him to Anchorage for a liaison tour of Elmendorf Air Force Base.  There, he quickly won friends with weekly wilderness “recons” in his Sea King pontoon helicopter, fishing tackle and poles included.  All on the taxpayer dime.
After his tour, despite the glut of ex-’Nam chopper pilots saturating the market, Ralph lucked into a distant cousin’s logging operation in Arkansas.  He quickly racked up time hauling machinery in and out of the hills in an old Sikorsky.  A floatplane was added to the fleet, and Ralph took to it as naturally as his first whirlybird.
A corporation from Little Rock eventually bought out the mine.  Treating him like a backwoods hick, the company’s Chief Pilot tacked Ralph onto the bottom of the seniority list; he would only get to fly the worst of jobs.  After eyeing the man for a moment, he tossed his company badge on the desk.
“To hell with it,” he said, and marched out the door.
The counterculture couple packed up their van and headed for Alaska.
The Last Frontier proved the perfect land to hone his skills as a pilot . . . and as a practical joker.  And one incident in particular solidified his reputation for both.
It came to be called, The Great Mount Edgecombe Volcanic Eruption of April First.
Sitka Sheriff John McCabe valued his beauty sleep.  But every summer morning, he was rudely shaken out of bed by the drone of Ralph’s single engine Beaver, or the whop-whop of his whirlybird.  In hot retaliation, McCabe accused Olafsen of everything from reckless flying to poaching.  Though perhaps somewhat guilty of the former, Ralph was completely innocent of the latter, and the accusation incensed him.
In the early dawn twilight of April first, the very first day of the summer season, Sheriff McCabe was once again rudely shaken out of bed.  But this time by a phone call.  The harried voice of the desk sergeant snapped him to.
“Mount Edgecumbe’s on fire, John,” he cried.  “The whole thing’s erupting!”
“Impossible,” McCabe replied with unmasked anger.  “It’s extinct.”
“Take a look for yourself, then,” the man answered.
He did.  Shuffling out the front door in his emerald green pajamas and Martha’s pink slippers, he looked west across Sitka Sound.  And gasped in horror.
Mount Edgecombe, long dormant and dominating the skyline west of the city, highlighted in predawn twilight, belched an enormous cloud of black smoke.
“Jesus,” he exclaimed, grabbing his keys and racing to his patrol car.  He screeched away.  “Prepare for an evacuation,” he cried over the radio as he careened down Katlian Street.  “Call the National Guard.  And phone Ralph Olafsen.  Tell him to get his chopper ready.  We’ve got to see if this thing’s gonna blow.”
Over O’Connel Bridge and onto Japonski Island he raced, circling the airport perimeter and finally skidding up to the helipad.
Ralph was already strapped in the cockpit, sipping from his coffee mug, chopper blades spinning lazily.  McCabe hopped in.
“Nice uniform, Chief,” Ralph said.
“Shut up and move,” he growled.
Ralph pulled the collective, the blades cut the air and the ship launched toward the rumbling menace.  As they edged closer to the mouth of the volcano, McCabe fidgeted nervously in his seat.  But Olafsen remained strangely calm.
He said over the intercom, “Relax, Chief.  If this thing goes, we won’t know what hit us.  Well, except for the writhing in hellfire part as we plummet to our death.”
McCabe shot him a scowl.  “Move closer.”
They did, enough to see over the rim.  McCabe’s eyes widened in surprise.  His mouth dropped open.
“Well, looky there,” Ralph said, “looks like someone decided to dump their old tires and burn ‘em up.  Nice they did it away from town, so’s no one gets upset.”
McCabe’s eyes narrowed; the veins in his neck bulged against his pajama collar.  Just as it looked like his head would explode, he shouted, “Take us back home!”
They landed at the helipad amidst a media melee.  McCabe stared out the window in horror, realizing what was to come.
“Well, Chief, let’s see.  Half hour’s flight time will be $125.00, special government rate.  Shall I bill you, or the Department?”
“I owe you nothin’,” McCabe spat, hopping out.
“Happy April Fool’s Day, Chief,” Ralph called as the Sheriff was mobbed by snickering reporters.
Cameras snapped away, and a half dozen microphones were thrust into McCabe’s face, but all he could say was a clipped, “False alarm, no comment,” before escaping.
The next day, the Sitka Daily Sentinel proudly sported a front page full color shot of McCabe in his “new uniform” of green and pink, the “volcano’s” black smoke belching in the background.
Sheriff Erupts Over Volcanic Hoax, read the caption.
Every government agency, from the FAA to the EPA, investigated.  But, aside from a two-hour discrepancy in the helicopter’s flight log and two witnesses who heard a distant “whop-whop sound” on or about three a.m., no evidence was found.
Knowing when he was beat, and preferring to keep further shots of his “new uniform” out of the paper, Sheriff McCabe quickly and quietly squelched his own department’s investigation.  No charges were pressed.
Olafsen never once admitted guilt, but for months afterward he drank free in every bar in southeast Alaska.

PS: Here's a great poem by Karlene Petitt over at Flight to Success about pilot April Fool's jokes:

Posting April 4 @ 11:00PHX:
Cap'n Aux answers readers' Q's—Part II  
A Day in the Life of an Airline Pilot!
Sample Q's:
—Would you discuss Captain's Emergency Authority, and, have you ever had to utilize it?
—What is your typical work week, and daily schedule?

Posting April 10:

Cap'n Aux answers readers' Q's—Part III

Now we get technical!
Sample Q's:
—What is the fuel burn-rate of your aircraft? 
—Do you have left/right controls? How is it to fly?
Coming Soon:
Cap'n Aux's First GoPro Vlog!

"Flight gathers, and now my watch begins..."






  1. What a GREAT Idea...and wonderful gesture. And I love that hoax... yes. Pilots are full of them. So... did you ever participate in any of these?

    1. OMG great ones! Everybody click that link and read Karlene's GREAT poem about pilot practical jokes, lol!


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