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Royal Canadian Air Force Canso 9807 was requested to urgent operational duties, mainly convoy coverage. The aircraft departed in radio silence on 5 May 1943 at 0631 GMT from runway 15 and crashed a minute later, killing six of the seven crew on board (Table 1). Cpl. Urbain Edmond Antoine, who was located in the bunk compartment, was seriously injured, but survived the crash (Mulvihill 1943).

Table 1: Crew list for RCAF Canso 9807. Adapted from Library & Archives Canada and Mulvihill 1943.

Name Rank Serial Number Unit Duty Injuries
Casey, Brian Anthony F/Lt. C.1061 5 B.R. 1st Pilot Fatally
Barsalou, Joseph John F/Lt. C.1237 5 B.R. 2nd Pilot Fatally
Cleeland, James Rayson Wallace F/O J.11797 5 B.R. Navigator Fatally
Millar, James Herbert P/O J.20859 5 B.R. W.O.A.G. Fatally
Morrice, Alexander Frederick W.O.2 R.93368 10 B.R. W.O.A.G. Fatally
Stallwood, John Benjamin Sgt. R.122657 5 B.R. 1st engineer Fatally
Dube, Urbain Edmond Antoine Cpl. R.63059 5 B.R. 2nd engineer Seriously

*There were a number of discrepancies between the incident report and the Library & Archives Canada records. The changes from the incident report are to add the first names where possible, J.P. Barsalou to J.J. Barsalou, Claeland to Cleeland, Miller to Millar, Morricee R.93362 to Morrice R.93368 and Cpl. Dube could not be found, indicating that he must not have died during the war. Dube was listed both as Urbain Edmond Antoine and W.E.A. within the incident report.

Prior to takeoff, on the evening of 4 May 1943, the Canso 9807 was inspected as part of the daily inspections. LAC Donald Harry Scott, R144305, signed off on the inspection work sheets. The aircraft was carrying a full load of gas (1,300 gallons) and of oil (80 gallons), and would have weighed approximately 33,150lbs. The maximum load for a Canso aircraft was 34,500 lbs., keeping the aircraft within the allowable weight. When Canso 9807 took off, the weather conditions consisted of fog coming in from the south with a ceiling of about 600ft but dropping rapidly. At a temperature of 31.5°F (about 0°C) there was the potential that ice could have formed in the carburetor, but not on the wings. But, according to the report, had ice formed in the carburetor the pilot would have noticed as he would not have been able to achieve takeoff speed with a full load. The aircraft took off without issue and flew over the American side before crashing (map 1). Witness reports vary from this point on. Some witnesses saw normal exhaust coming from the engines, but other witnesses reported the starboard exhaust flames going out, indicating the failure of that engine. Other witnesses saw both engines functioning, but said a whining noise indicated that the engines were using more power than normal prior to the crash. No witnesses reported any sputtering or backfiring of the engines, or other major indicators of engine trouble. The report concluded, based mainly on the witness testimony of Cpt. Dube and Captain George William John Gander, Commanding Officer of the 1st Aerodrome Defense Company C.A. (A) and the final witness to see the aircraft before the crash that both engines were functioning prior to the crash but were using more power than normal.

Map 1: Approximate location of the crash site relative to the airport. From GoogleEarth2016

Map 1: Approximate location of the crash site relative to the airport. From GoogleEarth2016

According to the witness statement of Cpl. Dube, as part of the takeoff preparations, the pilot “ran up his engines in front of the hangar and then again at the end of the runway. Both times they sounded normal” (Mulvihill 1943). After a normal takeoff, Dube stated that the air was rough and once airborne, the flight was extremely rough. The aircraft began to climb, and then dropped suddenly. The aircraft leveled out again for a couple of seconds, then stated to fall once again. At this point, in his words, Cpl. Dube heard the crash and was thrown 40ft from the aircraft (figure 1). The final thing he could remember was a loud explosion which he believed was a depth charge. He regained consciousness later when in the hospital (Mulvihill 1943).

Figure 1: The tail of the aircraft where Cpl. Dube was located before the crash. Lisa M. Daly 2009.

Figure 1: The tail of the aircraft where Cpl. Dube was located before the crash. Lisa M. Daly 2009.

The first priority for crash responders was to locate any survivors. Unfortunately, the crash was severe and due to the full fuel load, burned too hot to allow for anyone to approach the main area of the crash (map 2); the aircraft and surrounding trees were burning. Cpt. Dube was located and transported to the hospital. No crew members could be found outside of the main crash area.

Map 2: The high energy crash scattered aircraft fragments over a significant area.

Map 2: The high energy crash scattered aircraft fragments over a significant area.

The crash was high energy and the aircraft was extensively damaged, so that no information could be collected from the instruments or controls to indicate the cause of the crash (Mulvihill 1943). The wings were damaged in that the port wing was relatively intact, but separated from the rest of the aircraft and the starboard wing was fragmented (figure 2). Due to the damage to the starboard wing and the relatively narrow swath created by the aircraft entering the forested area (only four feet wide), it was determined that the aircraft must have entered while on an almost vertical bank. The port wheel was found to be fully retracted in the wheel well, which would indicate that there was power to the starboard engine just prior to the crash (Mulvihill 1943). The rest of the damage is reported as follow:

Figure 2: Wing tip that has since been removed from the site by persons unknown. Lisa M. Daly 2009.

Figure 2: Wing tip that has since been removed from the site by persons unknown. Lisa M. Daly 2009.

Hull

Broken in two main parts at the bulkhead between the blister and bunk compartments. The pilot’s compartment practically disintegrated while the navigator’s compartment was torn and twisted back over the engineer’s compartment (figure 3).

Figure 3: The hull, badly damaged. Lisa M. Daly 2010

Figure 3: The hull, badly damaged. Lisa M. Daly 2010

Wing & tail section

The starboard wing was shattered and littered along the first seventy yards of the swatch. The port wing was relatively intact and lay one hundred and five yards down on the extreme right of the swath (figure 4). The tail was broken off and lay under the aft part of the hull (Mulvihill 1943).

Figure 4: The largest section of wing. Lisa M. Daly 2009

Figure 4: The largest section of wing. Lisa M. Daly 2009

The report concludes that Canso 9807 crashed because it “stalled due to climbing at a critical angle in rough air” (Mulvihill 1943). The weight of the aircraft may have been a factor, as it was the second incident with a Canso under similar conditions. Therefore, it was recommended that the maximum weight of the aircraft be reduced to prevent further accidents.

This is a very concentrated crash site. Based on both archaeological and documentary evidence, this was a sudden crash and burned quickly. There is very little evidence of fire on the aircraft remains, such as melted metal, but site investigators reported that at first the crash was too hot to approach to located crew members. This does illustrate that fire and explosion are not always obvious in the archaeological record; the evidence of fire in this case being that the area is populated with birch trees rather than the more common spruce trees (figure 5). That said, the area of highest artifact concentration, which was most likely where the fire concentrated, is rather wet, with part of the fuselage being partially submerged. This could be hiding evidence of fire, or helped to keep the fire slightly more contained.

Figure 5: Area of high artifact concentration around the hull sections. Lisa M. Daly 2009

Figure 5: Area of high artifact concentration around the hull sections. Lisa M. Daly 2009

The site shows that the wing separated from the remainder of the aircraft first, followed by the tail, the front of the fuselage was at the furthest point from the runway. The cockpit was not located, but the report indicates that it was destroyed and the fuselage section could not be fully analysed due to it being partially submerged. As indicated by the site and the report, the wing broke in a number of places and scattered around the site. A wing tip was on the site in 2009, and photographed by archaeologists, but in 2010 this piece was missing from the site (figure 2). In 2011 the site was visited again to try to find this piece, without success. The tail is still in relatively good condition, and one of the blisters from the aircraft is still intact and in the possession of a Glenwood resident. The engines, tires and propellers are visible in pictures of the site taken at the time of the crash, but these were not found, indicating that they were removed by recovery crews during the war era (most likely) or by site visitors in subsequent years. I believe that they were removed at the time of the investigation due to the site’s proximity to the airbase, making it easy for the removal of all sensitive material but leaving the shell of the aircraft at the site. The interest in the starboard engine for the crash investigation would certainly suggest that the extra effort be made to recover that part of the aircraft (figure 6). The amount of aluminum remaining on site would also indicate this.

Figure 6: Images of the hull from the original crash report (Mulvihill 1943). Note changes to site in figures 3 and 5.

Figure 6: Images of the hull from the original crash report (Mulvihill 1943). Note changes to site in figures 3 and 5.

An interesting feature on this site is a small, round pond near the wings. In the report, USAAF servicemen who were helping with the rescue (at this point waiting for the fires to die down) were surprised, but not hurt, when one of the depth charges exploded about a half hour after the crash (figure 7). Cpl. Dube also noted that he heard an explosion which he believed to be a depth charge (Mulvihill 1943). This was most likely due to the heat of the fire. The hole created by this explosion is now filled with water due to the wet nature of the site, and now sits as a stagnant pond on the site. The depth of the pond was not established, but the diameter was so that it could be placed on the site map (Map 1).

Figure 7: The hole created by the depth charge exploding. Lisa M. Daly 2009.

Figure 7: The hole created by the depth charge exploding. Lisa M. Daly 2009.

The archaeological investigation does not add much information to the detailed report, but instead confirms much of what is stated, and provides an inventory of what is on site. It also shows changes to the site. I visited the site in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and because of Hurricane Igor in October 2010, the site had changed a little. Uprooted trees revealed more pieces of aircraft which were then added to the archaeological inventory and map (figures 8 and 9). Extreme weather can move objects as large as aircraft fragments, shifting them around the site as informants have indicated with the Burgoyne’s Cove B-36, covering them in debris as Hurricane Igor did to some objects on the Dolan B-24 near Gander, or uncovering them as seen with this site.

Figure 8 and 9: Changes to the site caused by Hurricane Igor. Top, uprooted trees; bottom, what the lifted roots uncovered. Lisa M. Daly 2011.

Figure 8 and 9: Changes to the site caused by Hurricane Igor. Top, uprooted trees; bottom, what the lifted roots uncovered. Lisa M. Daly 2011.

Canso Fig 9

It is obvious from the missing wing tip that the site is threatened. The wing tip (figure 2) is obviously a very interesting piece, and could be of use to historical groups of the museum, but under provincial law, should be collected and catalogued by an archaeologist so that the province has a record of what historical material is available. The Rooms gladly work with museums to help them display artifacts, and also offer help when it comes to storing and conserving pieces.

Sources

Library & Archives Canada (LAC)
2016  Service Files of the Second World War – War Dead 1939-1947. Accessed 09 July 2016: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/second-world-war/second-world-war-dead-1939-1947/Pages/search.aspx

Mulvihill, J.C.
1943 Proceedings of Court of Inquiry or Investigation Flying Accidents: Canso “A” #9807, Royal Canadian Air Force, Gander.

For an explanation of RCAF serial numbers, please visit: http://www.rafcommands.com/forum/showthread.php?6411-RCAF-Service-Numbers

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I’m not thrilled to be posting two book reviews in a row, but I took this one and Under The Radar by Tom Drodge out of the library at the same time, and I thought it best to do the review before I have to return them. Hopefully I will have something more exciting for next week.

Newfoundland And Labrador Tragedies: And near Tragedies by Raymond Zink is a self-published work that looks at five exciting events in Newfoundland and Labrador. Of course the aircraft incidents caught my eye. The events are around two students from Bowdoin College who end up taking 17 days to get from what is now Churchill Falls down the Grand (then Hamilton, now Churchill) River to safety in 1891, the Truxtun and Pullux disaster of 1942, the 1942 Saglak Bay crash, Ranger Hogan’s 50 day survival after bailing out of a Ventura in 1943, and the 1946 Sabena crash near Gander.

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This is an incredibly interesting book for anyone not familiar with these events. There are stories of extremes of human survival, even if in some cases the people did not survive. Those in the Saglek Bay crash survived for at least 55 days in the middle of winter (10 December 1942 to the last diary entry on 3 February 1943) before starving. Even when they were found, it was noted that they did not freeze to death, which shows an impressive level of survival skill.

I did not know about the Bowdoin College students who were send up the Grand River to document the falls, nor that there is a canyon named after them. I certainly did not know about their ordeal trying to get back down the river. Four students started the journey, but two turned back after one injured his hand. The other two made it to the falls, but lost much of their supplies due to a fire and had to walk back down the river to the meeting point. For most of the walk they survived off squirrels that they shot. For this reason, I found this entry to be the most interesting.

Sabena wreckage. From http://www.ganderourtown.ca/zOld/PhotoSabena.htm.

Sabena wreckage. From ganderourtown.nl.ca.

The reason why I did not find the other events as interesting is that the author does not really bring anything new to the stories. I was familiar with them, and have read the Saglek Bay “Diary of one now dead”, read not only Frank Tibbo’s Charlie Baker George about the Sabena, but also the reports that are found in the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador. Similarly, I have read about Ranger Hogan’s experience both in the archives and in books about the Newfoundland Rangers. The Truxtun and Pollux disaster has been in the news relatively recently with the death of Lanier Phillips and his story gaining interest in the United States.

Wreck of the USS Truxton. From http://www.originalshipster.com/2014/09/30/over-the-waves-uss-truxtun/

Wreck of the USS Truxton. From originalshipster.com.

Zinck’s style mainly consists of copying newspaper, diaries and reports verbatim to let the reader see the story. In some cases he does add information, but typically it is commentary such as the fact that the two trappers, Bruce Shea and Abbott Pelley, who were instrumental in helping survivors in the first night after the crash, were not recognized for many years for their involvement. He also makes commentary on the fact that those who crashed in Saglek Bay did not take advantage of the fact that they had gun and could have hunted (the diary entries talk about fox and seals nearby) and relied only on the food they had on board the aircraft. That is valid commentary, but I don’t understand why, when talking about Ranger Hogan and Corporal Butt, Zinck starts to talk about the fat content of porcupines and how they are great as survival food, then states that there were neither porcupines nor squirrels in Newfoundland at the time. Hogan and Butt were in the woods for 50 days with no provisions and survived off of 12 rabbits and whatever berries, leaves and greens Hogan could find. I did learn about the Hogan Trail, and have been wanting to get back to the Northern Peninsula, and will be sure to walk this commemorative trail when I do.

Crew of the B-36 Times A'Wastin' which crashed in Saglek Bay. From http://lswilson.dewlineadventures.com/page8.htm.

Crew of the B-36 Times A’Wastin’ which crashed in Saglek Bay. From A Crash In the Wilderness

And, as usual, there are the editing problems that often accompany self-publication. In some cases, Zink is inconsistent in the spelling of places. The book is littered with typos and formatting issues, and like the porcupine comments, there are odd tangents which do not add to the telling of the events.

If you haven’t heard about some of these events in Newfoundland and Labrador history, then this is a great book to pick up. But if you are familiar with them, then give it a pass.

Zinck, R.G.
2009  Newfoundland And Labrador Tragedies: And near Tragedies. Publish Yourself: Halifax.

 

 

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