Wop May and his partner, Victor Horner, were asked to assist
when an outbreak of diphtheria was reported in Little Red River,
a small settlement 965 kilometres north of Edmonton. The news
arrived on 1 January 1929, and the Edmonton Board of Health
quickly prepared enough diphtheria antitoxin and toxoid to treat
200 cases. The flight north was to occur during frigid winter
conditions, but the medical supplies could not be frozen, so the
serum was placed in the aircraft with wool rugs and a
May and Horner took off at 12:45 p.m. on 2 January, in their
small Avro Avian with a 75 horsepower engine. They flew 426
kilometres, then decided to land at McLennan Junction since the
light was fading and the weather worsening. A telegraphed
message was sent ahead of their arrival. The surface of the
Junction’s frozen lake was shovelled to prepare for the Avian
since it lacked the skis for landing in winter conditions.
The two pilots took off the next morning at 9:40 a.m. and
arrived at Peace River at 10:32 a.m. to refuel. They were on
their way to Fort Vermilion and landed there before nightfall.
The serum was loaded on a sleigh that raced to Little Red River
that night. There was only one death in the settlement and a
much more tragic ending to this story was adverted.
The two pilots suffered frostbite and exhaustion from flying
in the cold in an open cockpit aircraft.