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Of all the sites I researched for my thesis, this one offered the most challenges. It was the most difficult to research, the most difficult to access, and when we got there, the most difficult to map and photograph.

It wasn’t helped by it being an overcast day and the GPS not able to find enough satellite data. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2010.

The site is located behind the airport, south-east of runway 2 (13/31 degrees or 12/30 during the war era, Tibbo 1997). It is on the edge of a large bog, and I tried to access it from a few different routes. In 2010, trying to take a direct path across the bog, I ended up falling in up to my chest and had a lot of difficulty getting out. I certainly didn’t want to risk my assistant falling in, especially seeing as up to my chest would have been over her head! A second attempt had us skirt the bog in an attempt to get to it that way. In this case, we came to a river. It was pretty fast-flowing, so not easy to just cross. So, one assistant attempted to make us a small bridge with some deadfall to make crossing easier. He fell in and got absolutely covered in river muck. It was a cold day, so I thought it best to try again later. Over the rest of 2010 we reached other sites and recorded those, and the B-25 found itself left for another year.

The river that took out one of my assistants in a 2010 attempt to reach the site. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2010.

In 2011 I had a different team, and it was a much hotter July. So if we got wet, we’d dry relatively quickly and not have to worry about being wet and cold for hours while trying to work (have to put the health and safety of my team first, of course). It also helped that between 2010 and 2011, GoogleEarth had updated and had better images, so we found what looked to be an old, overgrown, road that should take us somewhat close to the site. Turns out, we couldn’t find a road, but there was a river that took us most of the way, so we hiked up our packs and portaged the survey equipment down the river. With a great team who weren’t afraid to get lost in the woods, we found the site.

The edge of trees from the bog. Aircraft debris was found in both the bog and the trees. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

Royal Air Force records are not easy to come by. Many of the ones related to specific aircraft were destroyed, and the personnel records (how I found information about the Hudson near the Commonwealth War Graves) can only be accessed by the individual or a descendant. Some websites claim to have the records, but won’t show anything until you pay them. So, that leaves me with online forums and Ocean Bridge by Christie (1995).

What is known is that RAF B-25 Mitchell KJ584 crashed during a night takeoff from Gander on 29 August 1944 at 0342 GMT (Christie 1995; RAF Forum 2012). All crew on board were killed in the crash.

Aircraft debris. Note, the machete visible in these pictures is there for scale (we forgot our scale). Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

 

Name Rank Service Seat
Kabin, Vladimir John  Captain RAF Transport Command Pilot
Flood, David Sgt. RAF #1550839 Navigator
Sheldrick, Thomas Tweed Sgt. RAF #1311000 Radio Operator

Crew of B-25 Mitchell KJ584, adapted from Christie (1995). Christie has Kabin listed as a Canadian civilian, but according to the RAF Forum and the NBG site, Kabin was RAF Transport Command, meaning he was a civilian who was ferrying aircraft overseas before the RAF took over.

Debris found in the bog showed significant deterioration, possibly due to the rise and fall of the bog during wet and dry periods. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

From an archaeological perspective, the site offered challenges because unlike the RCAF Lodestar, it wasn’t just on the edge of a bog. It was actually partially in the bog and partially out. In fact, the wet area seemed more like it was a relatively new wet area as it might have been an expansion of the bog after the area had been logged. The pieces scattered around the open area could be easily measured, both by a Garmin GPS or by the surveryor’s level. However, I opted to not use the surveyor’s level because what was in the trees could not be measured that way. Debris was scattered throughout the tightly packed grove of trees, and sometimes larger pieces could not be properly photographed because other trees were in the way.

A segment of fuselage that could not be properly photographed due to the trees. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

The site itself was well recovered, most likely at the time of the crash. There were no propellers, instruments or other sensitive equipment on site. Most of what could be found were aluminum fragments of the fuselage and some pieces of the frame. The engines had been left on site, but were recovered by 9 Wing Gander a few years previous and laid closer to the road leading to Deadman’s Pond. According to Frank Tibbo (pers. comm. 2011), there were to be (or will be) used by the North Atlantic Aviation Museum.

Engines found near the road to Deadman’s Pond. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

Given that in looking around the site there was no evidence of an entry point of the aircraft, and that much of the debris in the trees did little damage to said trees, it is highly likely that there was a mid-air explosion which scattered the aircraft around the site. There is no evidence of burning, like at the USAAF B-17 44-6344, and no birch trees which would grow first after a fire, as seen at the RCAF Canso 98107. There are no real markers of visitation to the site, usually in the form of graffiti or litter, but I have talked to people who have been at the site, and who claimed to have removed things from the site (although their story changed and I cannot confirm exactly from which site they visited and removed material).

This section is wrapped around a tree stump, but laid against others, suggesting it may have fallen into the trees. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

This site offered many challenges, but hopefully if I could ever have access to the personnel records there would be more information and it could give a better idea as to what happened in this incident.

Sources:

Christie, C. A.
1995    Ocean Bridge: The History of RAF Ferry Command. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Newfoundland’s Grand Banks (NGB)
2007    Mount Pleasant Cemetery – St. John’s: Field of Honour. (accessed 21 Mar 2017).

RAF Commands Forums
2014    Thread: 440829 – Unaccounted Airwomen & Airmen – 29-8-1944 (accessed 21 Mar 2017).
2011    Thread: Ferry Command Crash Sites in Gander, Newfoundland. (accessed 20 Mar 2017).

Tibbo, F.
2011    Personal Communication
1997    The Best of Aviation: 101 Tales of Fliers and Flying as Published in The Gander Beacon. Creative Book Publishing, St. John’s.

Debris from the wreck of RAF B-25 KJ584. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

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Going to start this post with a plug for the event I’ve been helping to plan. Normally I don’t do such things, but I feel as this is, at its core, a blog about history and archaeology, then this is fitting. On March 25 there will be a heritage forum brought to you by Heritage Tomorrow NL (formerly Youth Heritage NL). For anyone between the ages of 18 and 35 and who is interested in heritage, history, archaeology, folklore, museums, etc., this is an event for you. We will be having a heritage skills competition, then really focusing on networking and talking to other like-minded young people, getting to know each other, and hopefully creating networks so that we can help each out. Registration is $10 and includes lunch from Volcano Bakery. Click here for details.

I’ve been jumping around the province a bit, and am heading to Stephenville for this post war incident. No archaeology here as the aircraft crashed on the runway and survived the accident. The main reason for sharing this one is actually the great pictures that were featured in the report at The Rooms. I really wanted to share those with my readers as so many of my pictures from the era are often grainy and copied so many times it’s hard to really see what’s happening.

On 13 August 1948, The Evening Telegram printed a small article about an incident at Harmon Field. The article reads:

Three Escape Death In Aircraft Crash At Harmon Field

Three crew members of a twin-engined Lockheed Hudson narrowly escaped death at Harmon Field this week when their aircraft, while coming in to land, veered from the runway as the pilot lost control, groundlooped and crashed.
The plane was being ferried from Dorval airport in Montreal to South Africa, and was owned by the Hanley Aviation Company of Johannesburg, South Africa. The plane called at Harmon en route.
Parts of the plane will be salvaged by the owners at a later date. The crew of the wrecked aircraft left Harmon Wednesday night for Montreal.

The aircraft in question was a Hudson Mark III, serial number 6386 (also sometimes listed as AC #41-23569), with the South African registration of ZS-DAF and it crashed. The crew consisted of Edward R. MacLeod, pilot from the United States, John P. MacMahon, navigator from the United States, and JohnH. Hluboky, radio officer, also from the United States. None were injured in the crash which took place at 23:53 GMT on 9 August 1948.

The aircraft involved had a long history prior to the accident. It was manufactured by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation and was delivered to the Royal Air Force Ferry Command under the service number BW-707. After 20 hours flying time with the RAFFC, it was transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force on 12 February 1942 and retained until 26 August 1946. It then went into storage. At this point, it had a total flying time of 1729 hours and 30 minutes. During its service in the RCAF, the Hudson was used in Canada for flight training and as part of a Search and Rescue Squadron (it was here that it was fitted with an airborne lifeboat). It was removed from storage on 20 May 1948 and flown from Greenwood, Nova Scotia, to Montreal, Quebec. On 16 July 1948, the aircraft was purchased by Simple Aircraft Limited from the Canadian War Assets Corporation, then sold again to Hanlys Aviation (Pty) Limited of Johannesburg, Union of South Africa. Long-range tanks were added to the aircraft, but no documents suggest when that happened. It is assumed it was done in preparation for the flight to South Africa. The pilot said the work was done by Ross Aero at Montreal Airport, but no details could be found for the incident report. The engines were ones put on during the RCAF service, and both were certified as fit for the ferry flight to South Africa.

From McGrath 1948

Prior to the ferry flight, inspections were made determining that the aircraft was fit for the flight, but the ferry permit limited flying to daytime flying. Otherwise, it was certified to make the flight to Johannesburg via Gander. MacLeod, the pilot, was an experienced ferry pilot and claimed to have 2,500 hours, 300 of those at night. In the war, he served with United States Air Transport Command and made 12 ocean crossings. Since the war he operated a flight school and charter service using small aircraft, mostly Lockheed aircraft. Prior to this flight, he did not fly the Hudson, but did inspect it prior to the flight. He stated that it was not until after he was in flight that he noted that the aircraft would not cruise at 170 knots, but the report points this out as a discrepancy. Had he been as familiar with Hudsons as he claimed, then he should know they cruise at 160-180 miles per hour, not 170-190 knots and the pilot believed. MacLeod also did not carry an Aircraft or Route Information Manual, did not know the empty weight or gross weight of the aircraft and carried to information or instrument landing procedures for any of the airports on his route.

The aircraft left Montreal at 1922 GMT 9 August 1948, and, as the accident report states, “even on a very optimistic flight plan could not have reached Gander before sunset” (McGrath 1948). The Hudson arrived over Harmon Field in Stephenville at dusk and requested permission to land at Harmon. Due to the daylight restrictions on the permit, the pilot thought it best to not continue to Gander and have to land in the dark. The request was passed on to the Civil Aviation Division in Gander and permission was granted on the understanding that the aircraft would proceed to Gander the following day and that the need to land at Stephenville would then be investigated. As the aircraft approached, MacLeod noted that the undercarriage indicator light did not come on when he lowered the undercarriage. He asked the Control Tower if the undercarriage was down, and due to the low light, the Tower could not see it and asked that the aircraft fly over at low altitude. With that passing, the Tower confirmed that the undercarriage was indeed down, and so the aircraft came in for a power-off landing.

From McGrath 1948

Witness statements from United States Air Force personnel stated that the aircraft made a very low approach, so low that they were not sure that the aircraft would even make it to the runway and thought it would land along the approach lights. At this point, the engines were heard and the pilot opened the throttles so that the aircraft regained some altitude. The aircraft touched down hard on the tarmac about 15 feet short of the end of the runway, bounced 30 to 50 feet into the air and touched down again about 300 feet from the first point of contact. The aircraft then began to swing to the left and the aircraft ran off the left side of the runway ab out 100 feet from that first point of touchdown.  At this point the left wheel hit and smashed one of the runway lights, but the wheel was not damaged. The undercarriage collapsed ad the aircraft pivoted on the left wheel making a turn of 270° to the left finally coming to a rest about 100 feet from the edge of the runway. There was no fire and the crew were uninjured. The left engine was still idling when the crash crew arrived. The pilot could not explain the swing and stated “that after the bounce the aircraft ‘stayed on’ with the tail down and the rudders became ineffective” (McGrath 1948). The report states that this was normal for Hudson aircraft in a tail down attitude. MacLeod said he tried to correct the swing by using the right brake, but it had no effect and he was afraid to often the left engine in case it cause the aircraft to swing to the right. The report states that there were no marks on the runway to indicate that either brake had locked.

As previously stated, the aircraft had been refitted with long distance fuel tanks. During the investigation, it was determined that neither the empty or gross weight of the aircraft was known. The all-up weight would have been 15,400 lbs. and it was rated as such by inspectors prior to the flight, but at departure from Dorval, with full tanks, the aircraft would have weighed considerable more than that. Due to the lack of data, it was impossible for investigators to say if weight was a factor.

From McGrath 1948

In the accident the aircraft:

sustained major damage on the starboard side; the port side was undamaged. The starboard wing was twisted lengthwise and the starboard engine mount was badly twisted; the starboard undercarriage had collapsed in a forward direction; the starboard wing root was damaged; the starboard flap was badly crumpled; the bottom of the starboard tail fin was bent inwards; the starboard cirscrow was bent and had cut through the starboard side of the nose of the aircraft (McGrath 1948).

It was also noted at this time that the plexiglass nose had been broken at some point prior to the accident and had a piece of fabric stuck over the break to close the hole. There was also an opening in the bottom of the aircraft which was made for the attachment of the airborne life boat for RCAF SAR missions. This opening had not been covered before the aircraft left Montreal. The investigation also showed that the brakes will had holding power, but the drag link on the starboard undercarriage had an old crack in the upper end of the drag link rod near the attachment point to the actuating strut. This link rod appeared to have failed when the aircraft slid backward at the end of the ground loop.

From McGrath 1948

In  the opinion of the investigators, the accident “was a result of failure by the pilot to correct a swing developed by the aircraft following a bad landing” and “tail heaviness of the aircraft may have been a contributary cause”. (McGrath 1948)

There were a number of irregularities found that were brought to the attention of the governments of Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa and United States so they could investigate any breaches in their respective air regulations. Such issues included the fact that the aircraft was granted South African registration before ownership had been acquired by Hanlys Aviation (Pty) Limited, and the South African validation was issued before the Canadian Ferry Permit which it validated. The pilot had no South African documentation authorizing him as a US airman, and the aircraft radio was not licensed. There was no record of work being done to the aircraft after it was removed from storage, even thought long range tanks were installed, and the weight and balance were unknown. There was no copy of the Department of Transport Information Circular T/5/47 on the aircraft as required by law, and the pilot had no Route Information Manual nor information on instrument approach procedures for the airports on his route. The pilot also used fuel from the cabin tanks first, causing the rear tanks to be heavier, especially when coupled with the fact that there was 300 lbs. of freight in the tail. Finally, nationality and registration markings were not painted on the wings. They were painted on the fuselage only (and the previous marking were still visible).

From McGrath 1948

The reports were sent off to the governments and a copy sent to Hanly’s Aviation Office in New York. The report was not completed or sent until October due to the delays in attempting to get the weight information. Finally, the copy that was sent to Wainwright Abbot, the American Consul General had an added note from J.S. Neill, the Commissioner for Public Utilities and Supply, which thanked the US authorities at Harmon Field for their assistance to McGrath in his investigation (Neill 1948).

Sources:

McGrath, T.M.
1948 Civil Aviation Division Newfoundland Aircraft Accident Investigation Report Number 10. On file PANL Accident to Hudson Aircraft AG/57/14

Neill, J.S.
1948 Letter to the American Consul General, 12th October, 1948. On file PANL Accident to Hudson Aircraft AG/57/14

Unknown
1948 “Three Escape Death In Aircraft Crash At Harmon Field”, The Evening Telegram. 13 August 1948, p. 5.

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