Coincidence

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by Stu Simpson

The first thing you have to realize is that these things happen to me. I don’t plan on them, I don’t go looking for them. But odd little coincidences, strange inter-connected events, like you’d find in the Twilight Zone, just somehow manage to find me. And these twists of fate often make my life very interesting. Oh, I almost forgot. They usually happen in three’s.

Here’s a really good example.

My wife and I were in Eau Claire Market a few weeks ago. We were doing some shopping prior to seeing an IMAX movie, the central theme of which was flying. While there, we bumped into one of her brothers. The three of us chatted for a while, then he said to me, “Oh, by the way, I bought you a book.”

Something clicked in my mind, a signal of sorts that told me to sit up and take notice. Call it clairvoyance, call it B.S., call it what ever you want, but I knew that fate had a little surprise in store for me.

Greg, my brother-in-law, went onto explain that he’d acquired for me a copy of “Wind, Sand, and Stars” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. For those who don’t know, Saint-Ex, as he was called, was a famous pilot and author from the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s. His writings are legend and are considered essential reading for aviators. I’d always wanted to read his stuff, to see what all the fuss was about, but I’d never come across any of it.

I was flattered by Greg’s thoughtfulness and generosity and made arrangements to pick up the book after my bride and I saw the movie.

Okay, that’s the first part of the coincidence.

We soon wandered over to the theatre area, bought our tickets, and went inside. Here, I began perusing the lobby displays promoting the various IMAX featues.

One of the displays detailed the picture we would see, “Wings of Courage“, which was filmed mostly here in Alberta in 1994. It documents the story of a flyer named Henri Guillaumet, a pilot for a French air transport company called Aeropostale. In June of 1930, Guillaumet took off from Brazil to forge the first airmail route westward over the Andes mountains to Santiago, Chile. Guillaumet crashed in the Andes and survived six days. He was finally able to walk out and was rescued by mountain people.

But get this. I learn from the display that one of Guillaumet’s comrades, a man who was a fellow pilot with Aeropostale, and was in fact Guillaumet’s supervisor, was none other than Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Saint-Ex is actually a central character in “Wings of Courage”.

That’s the second part of the coincidence – gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.

I knew there’d be another, a third coincidence linking everything together in a nice, neat, and enticingly strange package. But I couldn’t even hope to guess what it would be, or in which form it would come.

It was a week-and-a-half arriving, but it was worth the wait. And it happened at a most appropriate time, too.

At the April CUFC meeting, one of the people sitting at my table was Challenger jock, Andy Gustafsson. We were all engrossed in our usual pre-meeting hangar flying session when Andy told us he’d seen something odd recently.

He stated that he was driving on Highway 21 about ten miles south of Three Hills when he noticed an unusual building. He described the structure as, quite simply, an airplane hangar by the side of the road. But there was no airfield visible, no runways of any sort. The really odd thing about it though, was what was painted above the hangar door – the words ‘Santiago de Chile‘.

That was it! The third coincidence!

I outlined the whole string of events to the boys, explaining that the building was almost certainly part of the “Wings of Courage” movie set.

My coincidental trilogy was complete. All that remained to finish the story was to fly to the site and see the building myself. It’s hard to explain, probably harder to understand, but I almost felt compelled to make the flight, as though it was required by destiny.

Jim Corner, who’s always up for a good adventure in his Kitfox, agreed to fly with me. We set out in our airplanes on a blustery morning in mid-April, making our way to the intersection of Highway 21 and the Kneehill Creek. Andy’s description of the location of the ‘hangar’ sounded like it was very close to there.

We were disappointed, though, to find only an abandoned farm on the edge of the coulee, and nothing that even remotely resembled the subject of our quest. We decided to set a course for Three Hills and see what we could find on the way.

A few miles later, we came across another, much shallower coulee, but there was still nothing down there to interest us. Then, both at the same time, Jim and I saw a building two miles further north that looked like a hangar.

My excitement grew as we drew steadily closer to the building. Soon enough, painted letters appeared above the door and I was able to discern the words that Andy had seen – ‘Santiago de Chile’. And there was more. The words ‘Aeropostale General Compagnie’ were painted on the roof, visible only to those who fly low and slow, and who care enough to look.

Jim and I landed at the Three Hills airport and I phoned another of my wife’s brothers, who lives in the town. He drove us to a cafe for pie and coffee, and then added another verse to the tale.

Apparently, a local farmer had heard the producers of “Wings of Courage” were disposing of the movie set and offering the buildings to those who’d come and get them. So the farmer went and got one, which explains how Saint-Exupery’s Aeropostale hangar at Santiago de Chile wound up at Three Hills, Alberta. It also explains how we found it so much easier than Guillaumet did.

On the flight homeward, Jim and I parted company east of the Twin Stacks. Alone in the sky, I reflected with utter amazement at how fate had woven a few singular events into such wonderful coincidence. And I was glad these things happen to me.

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