Also posted at the Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove blog
In the 1950s, helicopters were still a relatively new sight around Newfoundland and Labrador. The first helicopter rescue in Newfoundland was in 1946 with the rescue of the survivors from the crash of Sabena OOCBG near Gander. In 1953, helicopters were much more reliable and safer, but their use in any sort of rescue operation, like today, makes for an exciting and dramatic story.
This past spring the island saw a lot of pack ice. Middle Cove and Outer Cove became popular destinations for folks who wanted to see the ice, and some who decided to go out on the ice. In 1953, William Dunn of Tunis Court in St. John’s, took to the ice with two unnamed companions to hunt seals. When Dunn didn’t return that evening, a search started. His brother, John Dunn, set off at 5am on Saturday, March 29 from Logy Bay, and within an hour was marooned by slob ice about 150 yards offshore.
At the same time that John Dunn was leaving to try to find his brother, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Rescue Unit, the United States Air Force (USAF) and Coast Guard were putting a search and rescue plan into motion. Flight Lieutenant Ensom of the 103rd Rescue Unit Detachment of the RCAF at Torbay, was contacted by the RCMP to help rescue a man stranded on the ice near Logy Bay. Ensom checked the weather and determined that it was too poor to attempt to fly a Canso to the area. A while later, Major Rich, Operations Officer of the 6th Air Rescue Unit at Fort Pepperrell offered his assistance. He had gotten the story from other sources. Ensom passed on the offer to Inspector Porter of the RCMP who said there were now others caught on the ice in the same area.
By 11am, the weather was still too poor for the Cansos, so Ensom contacted Rich who ordered a helicopter from Harmon Air Force Base in Stephenville. Added to the order was a line-throwing rifle from the US Coast Guard in Argentia.
All of the equipment arrived by 2pm and a rescue party was formed to rescue John Dunn. The crew consisted of Porter, Ensom, two RCAF Para-Rescue personnel, Trent and Courtourier (who had parachuted to the B-36 crash in Burgoyne’s Cove), Lieutenant Carmichael of the Coast Guard and a Navy seaman who could use the line-throwing equipment.
While this was happening, fishermen from Logy Bay determined that there was too much ice and the swells were too high to put out dories to reach John Dunn. Instead, Pat Malone, a veteran sealer, lead Frank, Dan and Coleman Cadigan’s efforts to rescue Dunn. The fishermen used a system of planks, gaffs, and ropes to reach from pan to pan and guided Dunn to the shore. John was just making it to the shore as the large rescue team arrived in Logy Bay.
While these rescue efforts were going on, the RCMP received word that another sealer, Frank Olson, was stranded off Sugar Loaf Rock, off Small Point, about two miles south of Logy Bay. RCMP and civilians had tried reaching Olson with a line, but to no avail. At one point, Olson caught the line, but dropped it in the water where it was immediately caked in ice and broke.
At 6:15, the helicopter arrived piloted by Captain Wills of the 52nd Air Rescue Squadron. Wills picked up Enson, who showed him where Olson was located. The helicopter hovered over Olson and lowered a harness. Olson fitted the harness under his arms and was lifted off the ice and hauled on board the helicopter. He was then let off at Small Point where the RCMP took care of him. The helicopter then left to search for William Dunn.
By 7:15, the weather was poor again. While it was nice on shore, the ice was shrouded in fog and made it unsafe. The Evening Telegram reported that, weather permitting, the search would resume the following day and the helicopter search would be joined by at least one Canso from Torbay. Further research is needed to see if William Dunn was found.
In an interview, Ensom did warn sealers that if they go out on the ice, they do so at their own risk. Search and rescue operations can pose a risk to the aircrews and aircraft and that the air rescue service was not designed with “the purpose of picking up people who are foolhardy enough to take a chance on dangerous ice.”
‘Tell them,’ F.Lt. Ensom said, ‘that they are completely on their own when they go out on the ice.’ –The Evening Telegram, 30 March 1953.
1953 Back from the Rescue. The Daily News, 30 March 1953, p1.
1953 ‘Copter Pulls Man to Safety. The Evening Telegram, 30 March 1953, p.1.
1953 Two Men Rescued From Ice; Third is Still Missing. The Daily News, 30 March 1953, p.3.