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.

Ice at Middle Cove Beach this past spring. Photo from bitstop-nfld.

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.

One of the buildings left in Stephenville from the Harmon Field days. Photo by Shannon K. Green, 2013.

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.

The rescue crew and John Dunn. From left corner clockwise: Dan Cadigan, John Dunn, Paddy Malone, Uncle James, Tim Malone, Willie Cadigan, Francis Cadigan. From The Daily News, 30 March 1953, p.1. (note the caption reads Jack Dunn, but the article in The Daily News and The Evening Telegram say John Dunn).

Gaffs in the Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove Museum. One was donated by Francis Cadigan, could it have been used in this rescue?

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.

Sugarloaf Path, part of the East Coast Trail, takes hikers past Sugar Loaf Rock and Small Point. From Hiking the East Coast Trail (and Beyond).

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.

The Canso outside the North Atlantic Aviation Museum in Gander. Photo by Lisa M. Daly, 2013.

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.

Ice at Middle Cove Beach this past spring. Photo from


Unknown Author
1953 Back from the Rescue. The Daily News, 30 March 1953, p1.
Unknown Author
1953 ‘Copter Pulls Man to Safety. The Evening Telegram, 30 March 1953, p.1.
Unknown Author
1953 Two Men Rescued From Ice; Third is Still Missing. The Daily News, 30 March 1953, p.3.



My posts have gotten pretty irregular, and they are going to stay that way for a little while. I’m trying to focus on getting more detailed research done and preparing for conferences and the like. I do need to learn to build a better balance between blog posts and in-depth research (such as shorter, less detailed posts) but I haven’t found that balance yet. I’ll get there.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Conception Bay Museum for the launch of the poetry book Flightpaths: The Lost Journals of Amelia Earhart by Heidi Greco. I snuggled in with the pirate Peter Easton and enjoyed an imagining through journal entries and poetry of Amelia Earhart’s last days.


Peter Easton, a well-known pirate who often used Harbour Grace as his base. Photo by author.

Greco fell in love with Earhart’s story, and has researched her life and the stories around her disappearance. She uses this information to follow what might have been Earhart’s thoughts as she and Fred Noonan find themselves crashed on a small sandbar, Noonan with severe injuries, and Earhart with a severely injured ankle. Greco allows Earhart to expresses herself with short journal entries, poems, and dreams, exploring her life from the first plane she ever spied, to her marriage to George Putnam, to her childhood and relationship with her sister, to her solo flight from Newfoundland, to her friendships with Katherine Hepburn and Eleanor Roosevelt. Through dreams the wanderings of the mind, Greco explores some of the theories as to what happened to Earhart as she attempted to fly around the equator. She looks at Earhart finding herself in a Japanese prison camp, in a witness relocation scenario, in an institution, and simply as an excuse for the United States to explore the Pacific Islands. Some of the poems and journal entries are so powerful that they will bring a tear to your eye and cause you to mourn the loss of Earhart.


Heidi Greco reading from Flightpaths at the Conception Bay Museum. The camera insisted on focusing on the sunflower, brought by Greco as a reminder of Earhart’s Kansas.¬†Photo by author.

What made Greco’s launch even more powerful was that she choose to launch it in Harbour Grace on the anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s solo trans-Atlantic flight. Most fitting, she read the poem “Grace” about that flight which even mentions “With a gifted thermos of homemade soup tucked beneath my arm,/ I ducked into the cockpit, smiling and waving”, a wonderful touch that I feel shows Newfoundland hospitality at its finest.

Artifacts of aviation in Harbour Grace, including the log from the Harbour Grace Airfield. Photo by author.

After the reading, it was wonderful to explore the museum. I have been there before, and will be there again. The museum showcases so many important parts of the area’s history, not just Earhart but the Harbour Grace airfield and Harbor Grace’s role in the Trans-Atlantic Air Race, the Kyle and its search for Old Glory. With so much history beyond aviation, the museum looks at the pirates in the area, the fishery, government, and life in Harbour Grace.

Outside the Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace. Photo by author.

While at the book launch, I did have the oppotunity to meet many wonderful people from the area whom I only knew through facebook. First, the ladies of The Moose Curry Experience who post great recipes and have helped me with in the field identification with a tweet or two. I was also talking to Florence Button who runs the museums in Carbonear. I will admit I haven’t been into the Railway Station Museum, the Rorke Store or the Post Office Museum, but will make a point of visiting them the next time I am out in Carbonear (which is pretty regularly). Finally, I made arrangements with the wonderful folks at the Conception Bay Museum to let me check out some of their historic documents to get the research ball rolling on a history of Harbour Grace (one that might compliment Challenge of the Atlantic which is now out of print).

A picture of the Harbour Grace Airfield which was taken on a much sunnier day. Photo by author.

Overall, it was a great day, and I enjoyed spending my evening with a glass of whiskey and a wonderful book of poetry.