All posts tagged Archaeology

Some of the wreckage at Garden Hill. Photo by Shannon K. Green 2013.

It has been a while since I have posted. Since my last post, I have moved provinces and am now in New Brunswick. I haven’t had any time to delve into the aviation history in this area, but I will! In the meantime, I’m waiting for an article to come out with the Alberta Aviation Museum‘s publication InFormation, and am working on another couple of articles for publication. Plus, I’m trying to get settled, build my Ikea furniture, and try to find my way around town!

Myself and Shannon K. Green at the sign that caught out eye and directed us to the crash site. Photo by Ken Thibeau 2013.

On my way to the Port aux Basques ferry I stopped in to visit family in Stephenville, so this post about the Port-au-Port Peninsula…

I came across this site when driving around the peninsula with family members. We actually drove past the sign that pointed to a plane crash, so of course we had to stop and check it out. I wasn’t expecting to go out to a plane crash, so it was my first (well, maybe second) time going to a crash site in heels and a skirt.

The trail to the site. It’s an easy walk, just off the highway. Photo by Shannon K. Green 2013.

United States Army Air Force C-54A 42-107427 left LaGuardia airfield in New York on 12 November 1944 for Harmon Field, Stephenville, Newfoundland with a crew of 18. The aircraft was expected to arrive at Harmon Field at 0558 GMT. The weather was forecasted to be excellent for the majority of the trip, but a complex weather structure would have made the last part “sloppy” with some light to moderate turbulence. The pilot checked the weather often before and throughout the flight, but the aircraft was still blown off-course by high velocity winds. Snow was also reported at the time of the crash. The pilot also failed to make proper use of normally functioning radio navigational aids to check the position of the aircraft prior to and during descent. The aircraft collided with the side of a hill at what is locally known as Garden Hill on the Port-au-Port peninsula. The high energy crash resulted in nine of the eighteen crew perishing on site, and three expiring in the hospital within a few days.

The “sloppy” weather over the Atlantic. From Barnes et al. 1944.

Private First Class Joseph Kara told investigators that there was no warning prior to the crash. In fact, the flight was “going good” until about an hour before reaching Harmon Field. That’s when the aircraft started to descent and did not ascend again. Kara said he was asleep, but woke up just prior to the crash when others on the aircraft seemed to think they were about to land; it was dark and passengers could not see anything from the windows. Kara then reports that the aircraft “got real low and I could hear the trees cracking”. In the next moment, he was outside and the aircraft was on fire. (Barnes et al. 1944).  At light, the survivors gathered together and Kara walked away from the crash and into the woods, where he met a Newfoundlander who brought him to the nearest building, a post office (Barnes et al. 1944; Leonard Simon, former base barber, pers. comm). About an hour after daylight the rescue plane found the site and shortly thereafter ambulances and trucks arrived at the post office (Barnes et al. 1944).

A drawing of the site from the incident report. From Barnes et al. 1944.

Private First Class Joseph Wosnisk told investigators that there was some confusion about the time prior to the crash. The flight clerk told passengers to strap their belts, but then changed his mind, saying they were still an hour from Harmon Field. Wosnisk reported that the plane dropped, like it hit an air pocket, and then began hitting trees. There was no indication of the aircraft turning as would be expected. Wosnisk was thrown from the aircraft during the crash. He then gathered with other survivors, made a fire, released flares to indicate their location to a passing aircraft, and took care of the injured as best he could (Barnes et al. 1944).

A view of the crash site. From Barnes et al. 1944.

Private First Class Charles C. Chonka reported that after the accident, injured crew were moved as little as possible, and many left where they fell. Chonka reported that two men died before doctors could arrive. When they did finally arrive, the doctors treated those seriously injured, but still alive. Chonka did not remember seeing any crew during the flight, and after the accident said he talked to one of the crew, but could not identify who (Barnes et al. 1944).

The cause of the accident was classed at pilot error (carelessness). The report indicates that “the pilot, through attention and lack of mental alertness, failed to make proper use of normally functioning radio navigational aids to check his position before and during descent”. A secondary cause of the accident was due to the weather, that the aircraft was blown off-course due to high velocity winds (Barnes et al. 1944).

Images from the crash site. From Barnes et al. 1944.

After the crash, the site was relatively inaccessible for many years, but aircraft pieces were still removed. In the Stephenville Regional Museum of History and Art is a propeller blade which had been removed from the site. The tip of the propeller has been removed, and used in the making of spinning wheels. When the museum was established, the remainder of the propeller was donate to be part of their exhibit.

The propeller blade housed at the Stephenville Museum of History and Art. Note the broken tip. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2014.

Since 1990, a road has been put through between Cape Saint George and Mainland, passing close to the site. A sign indicates the location of the crash and gives a bit of history, and a trail leads directly to the site. In 1990, when the road plans were put forward, Frank Gale of the Western Star wrote an article worrying about the risks to the site with a road passing close by. The accompanying photo shows a great deal of aircraft at the site, including engines. Since the road was built, the site has been almost completely demolished, with only a couple of fragments remaining. There is very little left at the site that is of salvage value, but what remains may be removed for personal collections. Even if the remaining aircraft if not removed, the site is constantly changing. These researchers visited the site in the early summer of 2013, and that fall, received pictures of the site from Gary Rideout, retired RCAF, showing site disturbance and aircraft fragments having been moved around the site.

From 1994 The Western Star article by Frank Gale.

The area contains benches and the remains of campfires, so as long as people are actively visiting the site, it will continue to be disturbed, but provenience has already been lost. Further analysis of the site will not add any information to compliment the crash report, and it is unlikely that other objects of significance will be donated to the museum.

View of the fire pits from the wreckage. Photo by Shannon K. Green 2013.


Barnes, George E., Barnie B. McEntire and Robert H. Augustinus
1944      U.S. Army Air Forces Report of Aircraft Accident: Vicinity Cape St. George, Newfoundland. War Department: Harmon Field, Newfoundland.

Daly, L. and S. Green
Garden Hill: The Crash of a USAAF C-54. Provincial Archaeology Office 2013 Archaeology Review, 12: 22-24, 2014.

Gale, Frank
1994      Association Wants 1944 Crash Site Preserved. The Western Star, 21 September 1994, p. 3.

PlaneCrashGirl at the Garden Hill crash site in heels and a skirt. Photo by Shannon K. Green 2013.



This project, which took place in the fall of 2008, had a number of firsts for me. It was my first experience as an archaeologist on a recovery project, my first time in a helicopter, and my first time in Labrador! The latter two were wonderful experiences, and the first was a learning experience for me. Some of that learning came years later when I looked back on the project. But why do this work if we can’t learn about history, and about how to preserve the archaeological record in varying circumstances.

Helicopter leaving me (and half of the team) in the wilds of Labrador. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2008.

The recovery of the Douglas A-20 was a project undertaken by Underwater Admiralty Sciences (UAS) for the recovery of the aircraft. They had gained permission from both the U.S. Department of the Air Force, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, to remove the aircraft. I was on site as an assistant archaeologist, and then, when my supervisor had to return to St. John’s, the archaeologist on site. 444 Wing Goose Bay provided transportation, as they used our little group as a training, making sure we were prepared to stay out in the field overnight if they were called away. Along with myself, my supervisor and the UAS team, Hollis Yetman was hired as a guide. To be honest, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to spend the night in the lean-to he built, but at the same time, didn’t really want to sleep in a small space with a half dozen men!

First seeing the aircraft as we landed nearby. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2008.

Douglas A-20 (F-3) 39-741 was one of 63 units ordered by the US Army Air Corp in 1939. This one and two others were modified to be prototypes for high-speed photographic reconnaissance aircraft, therefore had the designation F-3. The serial number had been removed from the aircraft by the time of this investigation (not sure if it was done around when it crashed or later), but Mark Allen of UAS said that they found “F-3 #2” painted on the interior sides of the speed rings in the #2 engine. He reported that the F-3 #2 confirms that this aircraft is the second F-3 unit (Deal 2009).

The serial number was cut off of the tail. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2008.

The aircraft was piloted by Captain Secord on 10 October 1942 when it crash landed in a bog in a remote portion of the Little Macatina River, in southwestern Labrador (Allen 2008; Deal 2009). The crash card cites it as being “85 mi. SW Goosebay, Conn. Capt. Secord forced landing fuel shortage. Rep. 1.” but the site was actually “76 miles on a bearing of 218 degrees true from Goose Bay” (Allen 2008).  The aircraft was on a reconnaissance mission and landed due to low fuel. The crew were rescued three days later, but the aircraft was abandoned, most likely due to the remoteness of the crash site. Because of this, the aircraft was in relatively good shape with little evidence of activity on the site. That said, the propeller from the starboard engine had been removed, the cockpit had be burnt (perhaps done after the crash to destroy any potential remains of equipment), and some wooden pallets were found on site (Deal 2009). Given the wet nature of the area, those were probably more modern as the wood would deteriorate somewhat quickly if left on the surface of the bog.

Location of aircraft. From GoogleEarth 2017.

The goal of this project was for UAS to disassemble the aircraft and ship it to Georgia for restoration and eventually to be a museum display. I could not find an update as to the status of the aircraft, but anyone interested in historic aircraft knows that restorations take a lot of time. As this aircraft was to be removed from the crash site, archaeologists were on site to monitor and record the recovery process, to survey the aircraft and the debris field to create an archaeological map, and to record and recover material culture not attached to the main body of the aircraft (Deal 2009).

“Floating” the aircraft out of the bog so it could be disassembled. Photos by Lisa M. Daly 2008.

The archaeological survey consisted of setting up a site datum and mapping the body of the wreck before UAS could start their recovery. Because we were being air lifted into the site, we had the ability to use large fluorescent pins placed at the end of the wings, the nose at the tail of the aircraft so that a photograph taken from directly above the aircraft could be superimposed on the site map. One of the members of 5 Wing Goose Bay kindly leaned out of the helicopter to take the photograph.

Contour map of the A-20A site in Labrador (Deal 2009).

While UAS worked on taking the aircraft apart (which the archaeologists would often stop to watch) we continued to map the site by laying out a grid system to set up a baseline elevation of the site. As it was a bog, there really wasn’t a significant difference in elevation. In fact, because the site was so wet, we had to set up the pallet that was near the aircraft at the datum to be able to get accurate measurements. The ground was soft enough that standing near the surveyor’s level too long would cause it to sink and throw off the measurements. The pallet helped add some stability, and gave whoever was reading the level a spot to stand where they would not sink as much. Every few measurements one would have to walk away to let the ground rebound. The surface debris was recorded, then subsurface debris was identified. UAS kindly let us use their metal detector (because their was so good, we acquired a similar one to use for recording the Ventura site in Benton, the Hudson in Gander, and other sites) and it allowed us to get a better idea of the debris field. As time (and ability) permitted, the buried material found by the metal detector was uncovered. Some was too deep and were abandoned.

Douglas A-20A FbCj-01. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2008.

A number of interesting artifacts were found, such as the cockpit escape hatch, part of the cockpit greenhouse (with plexiglass fragments still in the frame), the bomb release frame and lever, and a reconnaissance camera. The camera was of particular interest because it was found in two parts near the wing (where it would have been mounted). The case and cover were separate and there was still a little bit of film in the camera. The layout and ripping across the camera suggests that at the time of the rescue, the camera was probably removed from the aircraft, the cover taken off and tossed aside, and the film ripped out. What was left was packed with sphagnum moss for conservation purposes, then freeze dried when it was brought back to Memorial University. It was the end of the film, so nothing was on it, but it was still a rare find.

Body of the camera with moss packed inside to preserve the film until it could be brought to the conservation lab at MUN. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2008.

In examining the debris on the site it looks as if the aircraft:

approached the bog at a bearing of 85 degrees to the northwest. It may have hit tail first, tearing away the underbelly. A concentration of artifacts from the cockpit area indicates that the nose of the aircraft hit hard and was torn away, leaving much of it imbedded in the bog. The aircraft then veered to the right and came to a stop at a bearing of 115 degrees to the northeast (Deal 2009).

Looking in the tail section. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2008.

While the archaeological survey went relatively smoothly, the recovery seemed to have a number of problems, from trying to find and transport equipment to the site, to some of the bolts being too rusted to be able to easily remove, to the engines being too heavy and at first it was thought they might end up left in the bog. As well, when 5 Wing was slinging back parts of the aircraft, the wind would take the cumbersome pieces and cause them to spin. The first time it happened, the slight wound so tightly that it snapped back to unwind, and the crew almost ditched the piece, thinking it was going to cause an accident. Once it was figured out what was happening, the pieces were safely transported. The project started a few days later than expected due to hurricanes and low cloud cover, and, because of the hurricanes, the site was much wetter than anticipated. But, overall, the project was completed, and the aircraft is in Arizona awaiting restoration (Goose Hawk Unlimited 2017). Images can be found at

Taking a moment to pose while examining the debris inside the cockpit. Photo by Robert Mester 2008.

As I said at the start, this was a learning experience, both for myself and for the provincial protection of our aviation material. As more work is done, better legislation is written to help protect this material culture, but at the same time, the interest in not necessarily in just leaving airplane wreckage in the forests and bogs of Newfoundland and Labrador to eventually deteriorate. When projects are serious and will help to preserve material, then there is a chance to be able to remove it in an attempt to better preserve it.

Brining in a section of the aircraft. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2008.


Allen, M. (Underwater Admiralty Sciences)
2008 A-20A Havoc: U.S. Army Air Corps Serial Number 39-741 Recovery Proposal. On file: Provincial Archaeology Office.

Deal, M.
2009 The A-20 Havoc Recovery Project. Provincial Archaeology Office 2008 Archaeology Review, vol. 7, pp. 30-35.

Goose Hawk Unlimited
2017 Douglas A-20 Havoc. [accessed 22 Feb 2017].

A list of surviving A-20s can be found here.

More pictures of this site and others around Goose Bay can be found here.

A rainbow over the crash site. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2008.