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The harrowing tale of a plane crash in the high Arctic and the efforts of the survivors to stay alive in the world's harshest climate has all the makings of great movie fare.

The Canadian military, however, will not allow the three surviving air force crewmen to profit from their brief moment of celebrity by selling their personal stories to a film company.Instead, the Defense Department is backing another film and another company while putting a gag on the crew.

The real-life drama of the 17 passengers and crewmen aboard the C-130 transport plane that went down Oct. 31 about 12 miles from Alert, at the northern tip of Ellesemere Island, was headline news around the world.

Five people died.

For 34 long hours, the survivors struggled to keep warm and alive as a howling blizzard prevented rescuers from parachuting in or reaching the site overland from the top secret base at Alert, 560 miles from the North Pole.

Everyone testified to the heroism of the pilot, Capt. John Couch, who worked selflessly, even going so far as to give his jacket to an injured survivor. Couch finally froze to death.

Not only have the crewmen been prevented from having further dealings with Sunrise Films Ltd., a Toronto production company with which they signed a deal. They also have been ordered not to speak to the press.

"They are telling him that he is not allowed to say anything," said Susan West, wife of Sgt. Paul West, the flight engineer. "It's his personal life experience. It has nothing to do with military information."

Capt. John Blakeley, a Defense Department spokesman, said signing a movie deal would violate regulations prohibiting personnel from using information gained from public office for personal benefit.

"If it's the money, fine, give the money back and let them put their story out there," said Susan West.