Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)

95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

By Perry Wilson

For Ponoka News

After five decades of being out of the cockpit, it took her two seconds to accept the invitation from Jim Gray to go for a ride over the Ponoka area in his recently-purchased Cessna182. Jim uses it for patient transfers to and from his addiction treatment centres at Vernon B.C., plus Tees and Glendon in AB.

His company, iRecover Treatment Centres, is unique in using aircraft to quickly transport executives, staff and participants where needed. But on this beautiful autumn day the purpose was to re-connect Mrs. Carter with her aviation past.

“Remember I’m 95,” said Ilona as she looked at the big step up to the copilot seat.

A portable set of steps and a friendly arm proved to be all she needed, along with her inherent agility.

Jim started the engine, did his pre-flight checks and fire-walled the throttle. As the runway lights whizzed past, Ilona watched the runway fall away below.

“When Hec Labrie and others built the Ponoka Airport over 60 years ago, it was just a grass strip! Now look at it,” she commented.

Despite some vision decline in recent years, Ilona looked down at Ponoka and quickly spotted Rimoka Lodge, where she lives now.

I asked her where she and Mickey had their farm, and with her directions we found it and were soon overhead. This was one of those great harvesting days before October’s snow; perfect for getting crops off and doing fall work. And perfect for our sightseeing flight.

Ilona was delighted to see such progress in the fields we flew over. Next we had a bird’s eye view of the stampede grounds and Ag Events Centre, followed by a cruise over the beautiful Chain Lakes.

Jim has floats for his 182 so he couldn’t help but evaluate their lengths and shorelines for flying off the lakes, in case he removes the plane’s wheels and installs the floats next spring. Aviation enjoyed a surge of interest during the post-war period of the 1950s, and Ilona’s husband Mickey got his pilot’s licence then.

Later on he lost his pilot medical certificate as a result of suffering a serious power-pole electrical accident. His remarkable but incomplete recovery did not, however, allow him to get his pilot’s licence back. As his aircraft sat on the ground month after month, Mickey began to comment to Ilona on each beautiful day, that they should be up in the air.

He was relentless until Ilona replied one day “Mickey, you know you can’t get your licence back.” When he suggested she could get hers, Ilona said “I’ll go to the flying school in Edmonton and if I like it, I’ll go through the whole course. If I don’t like it, I don’t want to hear another word about it!”

She did like it, and completed all the requirements easily. Ilona did the flying and Mickey was her navigator for flights that spanned North America from the Arctic Ocean to southern Mexico and many places between.

Once when Ilona gave a ride to some relatives, including a five-year-old boy who had never been in an airplane, she finished the flight with her normal landing.

“That was a very good landing Auntie.” Thus spoke the instant expert. By 1970, the Carters weren’t using their Piper Commanche as often as previously, yet the costs of ownership kept escalating. So, they agreed to sell it (perhaps with the shedding of a few tears?).

But the memories of the places they had flown, and the people they had met, have lived on. Before our flight, Ilona refreshed those memories by paging through her pilot logbook. I should mention too, that Ilona took the controls when Jim suggested it. She flew smoothly and expertly.

“Some things you never forget,” she proclaimed.

Ponoka

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta had 1,571 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta’s central zone now has 1,101 active COVID-19 cases

Provincial death toll has risen by nine

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 1,731 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

The province’s central zone has 992 active cases

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said growing COVID-19 case numbers continue to be a concern in the province. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta announces 1,077 new COVID-19 cases Thursday

There are currently 14,052 active cases in the province

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council asks for a mask bylaw to be brought forward for consideration

The bylaw would require face coverings in all indoor Town-owned and operated facilities

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

In this undated photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Moderna chairman says Canada near head of line for 20 million vaccine doses

Trudeau created a firestorm when he said Canadians will have to wait a bit to get vaccinated

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference Monday, Nov. 16, 2020 in Ottawa. Poilievre says building up the Canadian economy post-pandemic can't be achieved without a massive overhaul of the tax system and regulatory regime. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservatives attack Trudeau’s ‘reset’ but they have ideas for their own

‘We don’t need subsidized corporate welfare schemes that rely on endless bailouts from the taxpayer’

There were 47 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta Tuesday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
Spread of COVID-19 in Brampton, Ont., linked to systemic factors, experts say

‘We’re tired. We’re numb. We’re overworked. We’re frustrated, because it’s not our rules’

A couple embrace during a ceremony to mark the end of a makeshift memorial for victims of the Toronto van attack, at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. in Toronto on Sunday, June 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
‘I’ve been spared a lot,’ van attack survivor says as she watches trial alone

Court has set up a private room for victims and families of those killed in the Toronto van attack

A person enters a building as snow falls in Ottawa, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. Ottawa has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 during its second wave thanks to the city’s residents who have been wearing masks and staying home, said Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
People to thank for Ottawa’s success with curbing COVID-19: health officer

The city’s chief medical officer said much of the credit goes to the people who live in Ottawa

Most Read