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

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday that the province was ready to move forward with Phase 2A and B in the coming weeks. (Photo by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
COVID restrictions for retail, sports and performers further eased

Occupancy in stores and malls boosted to 25 per cent from 15 per cent

Advocate file image
Red Deer COVID cases continue to decline

249 cases in Red Deer, down from 565 peak on Feb. 22

(Photo from Highway 11 Functional Planning Study)
Public input wanted for Highway 11 improvement plan

Round 2 of public online engagement continues until March 10

File photo
Gov’t of Alberta identifies estimated 300 new COVID-19 cases Sunday

Online COVID-19 dashboard unavailable as upgrades being completed

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

A SAGA member (left) poses as Jessi Hanks (right) with Castle Restaurant puts up a safe space sticker to display on the restaurant’s front door. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
SAGA Wetaskiwin works with local businesses to display they are a safe space

The safe space stickers show that its a safe and inclusive space.

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during their appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta Appeal Court orders 3rd trial for parents in toddler’s meningitis death

Stephans were accused of not seeking medical attention sooner for Ezekiel, who had meningitis when he died

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Vaccine hesitancy decreases in B.C. as mass immunizations set to begin: poll

Two-thirds of British Columbians, and Canadians, would get the vaccine as soon as possible

A woman walks through Toronto’s financial district on Monday, July 30, 2018. A new poll suggests most Canadians believe there’s still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in this country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Canadians, especially women, say gender equality not achieved in Canada: Poll

Poll results themselves underscore the challenge, with more men believing equality had been achieved

This image provided by Harpo Productions shows Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, left, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey. (Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via AP)
Race, title and anguish: Meghan and Harry explain royal rift

Meghan said she struggled with concerns within the royal family about her son’s skin colour

Kiara Robillard is seen in an undated handout photo. When the pandemic began, Robillard had to rush back home to Alberta from California, where she had been living for five years, after she was struck by a truck that broke her spine in two places. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Kiara Robillard, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘It kind of clicks:’ Text4Hope program helps with depression, anxiety during pandemic

Participants receive one text message every morning for three months

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

Most Read