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Diphtheria antitoxin

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Diphtheria antitoxin

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 charcoal-burner.

Wilfrid Reid "Wop" May and Vic Horner 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.


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