Born in Dunkirk Ind., Cedaredge resident Mike Folkerth is one of three sons born to Ed and Jessie Folkerth. He graduated from Dunkirk High School in 1964; attended Bellevue Community College (Bellevue, Wash.); and served in the U.S. Navy before meeting his wife-to-be, Cathy Lemon, in Delta.
("She was my banker," he laughed.) The two were married in 1990.
Now most of us have had at least one "life changing experience," and Mike is no different. For him, it occurred in 1982.
Mike, known as "Klondike Mike" to his friends and colleagues, was the owner of "Klondike Mike's Dance Hall and Saloon" in Palmer, Alaska. He was also flying an air-taxi service in and out of some of the more remote wilderness areas of Alaska.
He and his partners operated Susitna Air Service. "We flew everything," recalls Mike. "Airplanes with just landing gear, seaplanes with only pontoons (floats to enable it to land on water) and amphibians with both landing gear and pontoons." Mike noted that he often flew all three types of airplanes in a single day.
"We delivered supplies, fuel, people, fishermen, outdoor adventurers, etc.," said Mike. "We were the pickup truck for those living or vacationing in the Alaskan wilderness." According to Mike, a person can fly an airplane in that area until they run out of fuel, and end up in an unpopulated area larger than some of the states.
"It's difficult to put into words," said Mike, "but people there are different. It's like going back 50 years in time. Everything is hard, and people are more willing to join together in order to live in such a harsh environment. You can find dog sleds and pickups, with keys left inside, parked outside the laundromat. There are no rules."
On this particular morning, Mike said he was unexpectedly roped into flying into a remote area to pick up some clients who had been trophy fishing, because the partner scheduled to make the pick up had been called out for a search and rescue. A routine flight, Mike said it was unlikely that anything unusual was going to happen. But still, he was angry at having to "pull a double shift."
Everything was going well until it came time to land the plane on the lake. "The water was calm, and everything looked right for the landing," Mike explained. "I was focused on the landing, and I was expecting a perfect landing."
The plane he was flying was a Cessna 206, one of those "amphibians," equipped with both pontoons and a conventional landing gear designed to retract after take-off.
Mike said as soon as he touched down in the water, he knew he had forgotten to retract the landing gear. "Water was flying everywhere," he said, "and the impact blew the windshield out of the cabin like a water cannon, hitting me in the head. Water was spraying on my face, choking me, and then the plane flipped over, upside down on its back and then it sank.
"I was strapped in and totally disoriented. I couldn't remember which way was up, I couldn't get the door open, it was dark, the water was cold and I was drowning. I thought, 'so this is how I'm going to die.' I really believed I was going to drown."
But eventually Mike got free from the plane and floated to the surface, gasping for air. "I was glad to be alive."
Surprisingly though, he wasn't thinking about how lucky he was to be alive. Instead, he was thinking that he had "just wrecked a perfectly good airplane." Mike also knew he was about to become the topic of conversation among his fellow pilots.
Mike would have preferred to be known for all the good landings he made over 33 years of flying . . . "not the one landing where I crashed!" He is philosophical about it, though. "Good landings don't garner the attention that a good crash does," he quipped.
Mike said the clients that he flew in to get saw the plane crash and, after catching the whole thing on film, came out to help. Using a winch and a tree limb, they raised the plane out of the water. Mike repaired the plane and flew out, with his clients in tow.
"It should have been a routine flight," said Mike, "but I allowed my mental attitude to affect my decisions. I neglected my duties as a pilot. In flying, everything is systematic, and I failed to follow the system. I forgot to raise the landing gear on take-off because I was upset and my mind was outside the airplane. It was pure pilot error.
"I came within seconds of dying and realized that had I not escaped when I did, nothing would matter. I would have been dead! That sort of thing does get one's attention."
Reminiscing, Mike said, "And it changed my life forever. I am far more focused on the things that I enjoy now and I avoid the things that I do not. I have close up and personal knowledge of the very real fact that each and every day could be our last."
"The experience," Mike said, "has taught me to not dwell on the little things in life, but to focus on the much bigger picture — don't get caught majoring in the minors." Mike smiled, "I don't recommend this approach; however, it was effective."
Since leaving Alaska, Mike (now retired) has been a real estate broker and developer; a private real estate fund manager; an auctioneer (OK Auction, Inc.); a restaurateur (Mountain Mikes in Hotchkiss); a heavy equipment operator; a taxi cab driver; a fishing guide and horse packer; has written a book, "The Biggest Lie Ever Believed" (published in 2007); a lecturer (on the state of the economy); has written more than 1,000 articles for a variety of outdoor magazines; has served as both a guest and as a fill-in host on talk radio; and has his own website.
Outdoor enthusiasts, today Mike and Cathy spend as much time as they can on the Grand Mesa, fishing, riding ATVs, relaxing and not sweating the small stuff.blog comments powered by Disqus