The Will to Survive

The Will to Survive

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

The Will to Survive

Hope is ever ready to arise.

James De Mille, 1888

Joe Spring was packing his car. His parents, Tim and Teresa, as well as his siblings, had tried their best to persuade him to take the bus for the 700-hundred-mile trip from their home in Aldergrove, near Vancouver, to Prince Rupert. Joe, however, wanted to drive. He was planning a stopover with friends in Quesnel before going on to Prince Rupert for a long-time friend’s graduation party.

“The bus would probably be cheaper,” his parents said. “It’s a long trip, and you might have car troubles.” In the back of their minds, Tim and Teresa tried to push away the very real fear that was starting to develop. “At least wait until tomorrow morning, after you’ve had a good night’s sleep,” they pleaded.

Joe loved driving his bright red sporty car, however, and he was convinced that he would be fine. At 11:00 that Monday evening, he walked into his parents’ room with a broad grin and said, “Well, this is the last time you might see me!”

Unimpressed by his bravado, Teresa declared, “You had better make sure I see you again!” His dad was silent, fighting back a feeling of dread. His parents knew they had given it their best shot, but they also realized that in the final analysis, it was Joe’s life and Joe’s decision. They hugged him good-bye, and off he went.

Several days later Tim and Teresa Spring were becoming increasingly alarmed because their son had not called home. At first the Springs thought he had simply driven a hitchhiker to his destination or decided to tour another area. But as time passed, and no one had heard from Joe, the Springs’ alarm took on a desperate tone. They contacted the police, who opened a missing person’s file. The local TV station, BCTV/Global, aired Joe’s picture and story, and the Vancouver Sun ran a front-page photo and coverage. Friends uploaded Joe’s image to the Internet and drove up and down highways and back roads, searching. People all across British Columbia now knew about Joe’s disappearance and began to keep their eyes peeled for his red car.

In Kamloops, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police air detachment was informed about the missing nineteen-year-old. At the time, its search helicopter was in pieces, undergoing a major safety inspection; it couldn’t be flown. Pilot Jodeen Cassidy was frustrated in her desire to join in the search.

Flying had always been in Jodeen’s blood. Her father was an Air Canada pilot, and he had passed along to her his passion for exploring the world from above. Jodeen served for seventeen years as a RCMP officer in Vancouver before the urge to fly became too intense to ignore any longer. So she took a hiatus and trained to be a helicopter pilot. After completing the necessary flying hours, Jodeen became the only female RCMP helicopter pilot in Canada. She was posted to Kamloops, in the interior of British Columbia. Flying almost daily had honed her observation skills. She soon memorised the many surface variables in the vast forests and rough terrain of the province.

Jodeen was growing restless. She knew it was probable that Joe’s car had been in an accident, leaving it just off the highway and only visible from the air. But with the helicopter still in pieces, she remained grounded. Anxious to be out looking for him, she tried hard to be patient, knowing the engineers were working as fast as they could to safely complete the inspection.

Every day, Tim and Teresa drove and even walked sections of the highway that Joe had driven—looking for tracks, newly replaced cement barriers, skid marks—anything that might show them where Joe was. They even tried to tap into his spirit to find a clue to his whereabouts. It was an unnerving quest. As desperate as they were to find Joe, they were also aware he might not be alive. Despite all their careful searching, they found nothing.

It seemed like Joe had simply vanished.

On the following Monday morning, almost a full week since Joe was last seen, Kamloops’ helicopter still wasn’t ready to fly. That afternoon, Jodeen lay down for a short nap. While she slept, she dreamed that she was piloting the helicopter over the dense forest alongside the highway. And then she glimpsed the red car. . . .

When she awoke, Jodeen was even more determined to find Joe Spring.

The next morning finally found the helicopter good to go. With no one available as an observer, Jodeen jumped in and took off alone. Once up, the cockpit became filled with the smell of fuel. She decided to land near the small town of Clinton to check the situation out. An off-duty RCMP corporal, Al Ramey, drove over and Jodeen explained the situation. Al had met the Springs when they were handing out posters to all detachments along the route Joe might have travelled. When Jodeen suggested Al come along as an observer, he jumped at the chance to assist. Everything important to the helicopter’s safety checked out fine so they took off with the windows open, trying to ignore the odour. They flew on, checking gullies and crevices. Then, to their dismay, both radios suddenly quit working. Landing in the small town of Williams Lake to refuel, Jodeen found an engineer who discovered the source of the smell. It was a relief to know that, although irritating, it was not dangerous.

It was late afternoon, and most people would have quit for the day. Jodeen, however, was persistent.

“Come on, Al,” she said. “We have to go find that kid.” By now she was sure they were looking for a car that contained a body, but she wanted to give Joe’s family peace of mind. It had now been eight days since Joe had disappeared, and everyone knew a human being simply could not survive injuries along with dehydration for that length of time.

Jodeen and Al continued flying north for ten minutes, when suddenly Jodeen saw what she had been looking for—a splash of red amidst the trees, just like in her dream!

“There he is!” she called excitedly over the intercom, “I’ve got the car here, Al!”

“You’re kidding! Where? I can’t see anything!” he replied.

Jodeen circled the helicopter. “There!” she pointed. Totally amazed, Al saw it, directly beneath. Jodeen spotted a suitable field nearby and landed. “Do you mind climbing down and checking the car?” she asked.

Al jumped out, and after lowering himself down the steep embankment, he could see Joe was still in the car. After steeling himself for the worst, Al noticed that Joe’s arm—held in an awkward position behind his head—was moving back and forth in a faint wave.

Joe was alive!

Al ran to the car and placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “It’s the RCMP, Joe,” he said gently. “We’ve found you.” When Joe groaned as if trying to respond, Al looked at his eyes, which were swollen shut, and his thin, severely weakened body. He realized Joe was very close to death.

“Everyone’s coming, Joe. Your parents know we’ve found you.” Al wanted to make sure Joe was at peace and not worried about his folks.

When Al ran towards her yelling, “He’s alive! We need fire and ambulance!” Jodeen was stunned. Overwhelmed, she called the dispatcher on the police radio, which in this moment of extreme need miraculously started working. As she made her call for help, her first thought was, His family will be so happy! And then there was gratitude: What a blessing it is to have this helicopter!

Only an hour away from Quesnel on the first night of his trip, Joe had fallen asleep at the wheel. His car had drifted across the road to the other side of the highway, hit a tree and proceeded down the bank. The saplings by the road sprang back, hiding all traces. The crumpled dashboard pinned his legs—breaking his ankle—and held him fast. His seat belt stopped him from falling forward as the car rested at a steep angle. His head was injured, perhaps allowing him to drift in and out of consciousness.

It wasn’t only Joe’s family, friends, Jodeen and Al who celebrated the news of his rescue. Indeed, when the media announced that Joe Spring had been found alive, the astonished silence across British Columbia was broken only by the entire population’s collective sigh of jubilant relief.

Joe remembers nothing about the nightmare. Spending eight days with untreated, serious injuries, with no water, exacted a huge toll on his body. But it was unable to touch his love and zest for life. With his injuries treated, and the love of his family supporting him, Joe recuperated beyond everyone’s expectations—returning to sports, driving and living life to the fullest.

If Joe harboured any doubts about how much his family loved him, those reservations have vanished. The experience gave him a calming peace about death, but at the same time confirmed for him how much he is wanted and needed in this world.

Joe knows that his years of tae kwon do and, more recently, kickboxing, served him well. He is convinced he owes his survival to his excellent physical condition, his positive attitude and his strong will to survive. Oh yes, and the determination and vision of Jodeen Cassidy—one persistent helicopter pilot who just wouldn’t quit.

Diane C. Nicholson
Falkland, British Columbia

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