Ordeal in the Arctic

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Ordeal in the Arctic
Ordeal in the Arctic.jpg
Based onDeath and Deliverance: The True Story of an Airplane Crash at the North Pole
by Robert Mason Lee
Written byRobert Mason Lee (nonfiction book "Death and Deliverance")
Paul F. Edwards (as Paul Edwards)
Directed byMark Sobel
StarringRichard Chamberlain
Catherine Mary Stewart
Melanie Mayron
Scott Hylands
Page Fletcher
Music byAmin Bhatia
Country of originCanada
Original language(s)English
Executive producer(s)Ronald I. Cohen
David R. Ginsburg
Robert Lantos
Producer(s)R.B. Carney
Jeff King
Wayne Stuart
Production location(s)Edmonton
CinematographyMiklós Lente
Editor(s)Allan Lee
Running time96 minutes
Production company(s)Alliance Communications Corporation
Provocative Pictures
Original networkABC
Picture formatColor
Audio formatStereo
Original release
  • February 15, 1993 (1993-02-15)

Ordeal in the Arctic is a television film written by Paul F. Edwards and directed by Mark Sobel. The film stars Richard Chamberlain, Catherine Mary Stewart, Melanie Mayron, Scott Hylands and Page Fletcher.

The accident that Ordeal in the Arctic depicted, occurred on October 30, 1991, when Canadian Forces Lockheed CC-130E Hercules (130322), from 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron (a part of Operation Boxtop), was flying from Edmonton, Alberta via Thule Air Base, Greenland on a bi-annual resupply mission to Canadian Forces Station Alert.[1] At night, while on final approach to the airstrip, the pilot apparently was flying by sight rather than relying on instruments.[2] The aircraft struck a rocky slope and crashed on Ellesmere Island, approximately 16 km (9.9 miles) short of the runway, resulting in the death of four of the 18 passengers and crew. Subsequent rescue efforts by personnel from CFS Alert, USAF personnel from Thule AB and CF personnel from 440 Squadron, CFB Edmonton, Alberta, and Trenton, Ontario, were hampered by a blizzard and local terrain. The pilot died of exposure while awaiting rescue.[3][N 1]


While heading to Alert in the far north on October 30, 1991, pilot Captain John Couch misjudges his altitude and crashes 10 miles from the base. Master Corporal Roland Pitre, the loadmaster, is the first to die while three others also do not survive the impact: Warrant Officer, Robert Grimsley, Master Warrant Officer, Tom Jardine, and Captain Judy Trépanier.

Of the survivors, Susan Hillier, and Master Corporal, David Meace, because of possible spinal injuries, cannot be moved to the tail end of the aircraft with the others. During the 32-hour ordeal, Couch makes multiple trips to check on Sue and Dave, while Captain Wilma De Groot, keeps the others calm, before succumbing in the cold weather.

Although they are able to see the base prior to the crash, blizzard-like conditions prevent anyone from going for help. Once search and rescue crews are sent to look for the aircraft, survivors are able to communicate with Boxtop 21, searching by air using a two-way radio. As the weather calms, search and rescue (SAR) technicians are able to parachute down to the site, while those searching by ground arrive soon after.



Lockheed CC-130 Hercules from RCAF No.435 Transport and Rescue Squadron

Ordeal in the Arctic was filmed at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton over a four-week period in November and December 1992. Although a northerly location in Canada, the terrain is very different from the tundra of Alert, Nunavut. To replicate the sunless conditions near the North Pole, filming was done mainly at night. Master Corporal Mike Kobayashi, an SAR Tech from 440 Squadron, who participated in the actual rescue, portrayed himself in the film. Another SAR Tech involved in the rescue, Master Corporal Tim Eagle from 440 Squadron, acted as the SAR technical advisor.[5]

Ordeal in the Arctic is an adaptation of Robert Mason Lee's non-fiction book Death and Deliverance: The Haunting True Story of the Hercules Crash at the North Pole. His book thoroughly documented the 1991 crash and subsequent rescue.[6]


Ordeal in the Arctic was considered a typical "made-for-TV" production, although it had the advantage of covering a story that had recently been in the news. Despite the real-life heroics, reviews were mainly tepid. Patricia Brennan from The Washington Post advised: "If you sit down to watch “Ordeal in the Arctic,” bring along a cup of tea. It’s a movie that’s a little hard to warm up to." [7] Reviewer Chris Willman from the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Considerable heroism is involved in this true-life survival story, to be sure – but, truth be told, it's mostly a bunch of people sitting around in the dark shivering."[8]



  1. ^ The subsequent crash investigation recommended all CC-130s be retrofitted with ground proximity detectors and beefed-up Arctic survival equipment.[4]


  1. ^ "Accident description: Lockheed CC-130E Hercules, 30 October 1991." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved: September 26, 2014.
  2. ^ Lee 1993, p. 18.
  3. ^ Lacroix, Matthew. "BOXTOP 22 survivor remembers fatal crash." Aviation.ca, October 30, 2008. Retrieved: September 26, 2014.
  4. ^ Troyanek, Jim. "Canadian Forces Station Alert: CC130 130322 Crash." Troywoodintarsia.com, 2010. Retrieved: September 26, 2014.
  5. ^ Grassi, Laurie. "Freezing in Hell." Richard Chamberlain, Actor and Beyond, 1993. Retrieved: September 26, 2014.
  6. ^ Gager, Scott J. "Review: Death and Deliverance, by Robert Mason Lee." C-130 Hercules Headquarters, May 2000. Retrieved: September 26, 2014.
  7. ^ Brennan, Patricia. "A Survival Drama." Richard Chamberlain, Actor and Beyond, 1993. Retrieved: September 26, 2014.
  8. ^ Willman, Chris. "TV Reviews: 'Ordeal in the Arctic' offers true-life story of survival." LA Times, February 15, 1993. Retrieved: September 26, 2014.


  • Lee, Robert Mason. Death and Deliverance: The Haunting True Story of the Hercules Crash at the North Pole (aka Death and Deliverance: The True Story of an Airplane Crash at the North Pole). Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 1993. ISBN 978-1-55591-140-9.

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