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Outdoors/Adventure

Alaska Aviation Legends: Ron Sheardown, polar adventurer

  • Author: Jane Dale
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 9, 2014

Ron Sheardown was just 16 years old in 1953 when he worked to earn his private pilot's license at a Toronto airport. Today, Sheardown has amassed 19,000 hours of flight time as pilot in command, including more than 10,000 hours in countries located in the polar region of the Far North.

Sheardown has flown in all 50 states and all the provinces and territories of Canada, as well as in Greenland, Iceland, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Midway, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Saipan, Japan, Korea and Russia.

In July 1967, Sheardown flew into Alaska and landed at Point Barrow, followed by Prudhoe Bay. By 1970, Sheardown moved full-time to Alaska and became the senior vice president and project manager for the Lost River Mining Corporation until 1974, when he formed Greatland Exploration Ltd.

The Robert Gauchie Rescue

In 1967, Sheardown and mechanic Glen Stevens were flying to a mining camp after being delayed due to a mechanical issue with their aircraft. It was approaching sunset when they passed Samandré Lake in Canada and Stevens happened to catch a reflection of the sinking sun off something that seemed unusual.

At 6 p.m. on April 1, after 58 long days on the frozen lake, Robert Gauchie was crawling back into his sleeping bag when he heard the sound of an aircraft. Gauchie had been stranded on the lake since February, after he became lost in a storm and forced down because he was low on fuel.

Sheardown and Stevens rescued Gauchie in what became one of the most famous rescues and the longest time between a downed aircraft and a rescue in recent Arctic history.

North Pole adventures

Sheardown has flown eight times to the Geographic North Pole seeking information about historic routes, flightseeing over the ice pack or just flying abroad to Europe and Russia.

From 1997-2000, Sheardown flew an Antonov AN-2 annually to search at Camden Bay on the North Slope for the aircraft of Russian pilot Sigizmund Levanevsky, lost in 1936. In 2013 a group of Russian investigators, including the grandson of a radio operator on Levanevsky's plane, joined Sheardown in a search of the area.

On a trip in 2000 from the North Pole ice pack in his Polish-built AN-2 biplane, Sheardown and co-pilot Dick Rutan encountered unexpectedly thin ice conditions while landing and the airplane went through the ice up to its wings.

Sheardown and his wife Karin had two children, Greg and Michelle. Greg was killed in a skiing accident in British Columbia in 2011.

Sheardown is a member of The Explorers Club, a life member of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, recipient of a 50-year member certificate from the U.S. Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a life member of the Alaska Airmen Association, and a 60-year member of the Canadian Aircraft Owner and Pilot Association.

Sheardown also received the Order of the Smashed Brick from the Canadian Consul General in 2002 and was on the ADS-B Capstone Team that won the Robert J. Collier Trophy in 2007.

Besides aviation and world travel, his other interests include exploring, skiing, photography, camping, hunting and fishing.

Ron Sheardown is one of 13 men and women selected to represent the next class of Alaska Aviation Legends, an annual project that recognizes the pioneers who made Alaska's aviation industry and culture what it is today. For more on the legends, consider attending the Nov. 7 banquet in their honor. More information is available at the Alaska Air Carriers Association website.

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