All posts tagged Constellation

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.



Preamble first. This summer I am working at the Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove Museum as the museum co-ordinator. My hope is that this job will give me some ideas for future historical aviation groups, and maybe even an aviation museum in St. John’s. Now I know that there are many wonderful aviation museums around Newfoundland, but St. John’s also has a great deal of aviation history, and for all of those visitors starting their journey across the island in St. John’s, a great spot to advertise all of the other aviation museums available. But, for now it is a dream that perhaps some day I will bring to light. Anyway, before starting at the museum I spent a day in the archives at The Rooms looking through some of the aviation documents housed there. I copied a lot of information, and I hope to go through some of it and share it here. Here is one of the first that caught my eye…

The 1947 Star of Hollywood incident did not happen over Newfoundland, but as the aircraft left Gander, then returned, a preliminary report was compiled and entered into the Newfoundland and Labrador archives.

On 10 March 1947, TWA NC90814, Star of Hollywood, left New York City at 1353 GMT en route to Geneva, Switzerland with planned stops at Gander, Azores, and Paris (McGarth 1947). The aircraft landed in Gander at 2058 and picked up three additional passengers, making the total passengers 20 with 10 crew. The aircraft departed Gander at 2213 (AP 1947).

The flight was normal until about 0030 on 11 March. The aircraft was flying at 19000 ft when the Navigator, George Hart, of Sag Harbour, Long Island, New York, was lost overboard through the astrodome. The weather at the time was clear with no turbulence, and the cabin was pressurized to 8000 ft., which meant the cabin was not pressurized to the maximum (McGrath 1947). A loud noise like an explosion was heard throughout the aircraft just before a rush of air passed through the vessel. Due to the cold air rushing in, a vapour formed in the aircraft, and the force of the air blew the doors to the galley open, knocking over the stewardess and flight purser. The doors to the navigator’s compartment were ripped from their hinges and thrown inside the compartment (McGrath 1947). Even with all of this happening, Lockheed officials stated that the passengers “hardly knew anything had happened until the plane landed at Gander” (AP 1947).

At the time of the incident, the crew were distributed around the aircraft as follows (McGrath 1947):

Captain Miller

  • asleep in the rear of the passenger cabin.

Co-Captain Hamilton

  • was in the galley following a routine inspection of the aircraft.

First Officer Burkhalter

  • was in the cockpit at the controls.

Flight Engineer Trischler

  • at the engineer’s panel (adjoining the navigator’s compartment.)

Second Flight Engineer Johnson

  • asleep in the navigator’s caompatment.

Radio Officer Huthansel

  • at the radio position (in the cockpit just outside the navigator’s compartment.)

Second Radio Officer Lannin

  • asleep in the passenger cabin.

Navigator Hart

  • in the navigator’s compartment presumed to be standing on a stool with his head in the astro-dome taking a star shot.
Inside the aircraft taken in Gander after the incident. From the collection of Darrell Hillier.

Inside the aircraft taken in Gander after the incident. From the collection of Darrell Hillier.

Once the incident happened, emergency action was taken as follows:

First Officer depressed the nose of the aircraft and began immediate descent; the Flight Engineer operated the emergency valves to depressurize the cabin; the Co-Captain rushed forward to the cockpit and took over control; the Radio Officer tried to send an emergency message to Gander but was unable to do so. (It was later discovered that the radio antenna was damaged).  The Stewardess and Flight Purser went back to the cabin to attend to the passengers and administer oxygen to three of the occupants, the remainder being unaffected by the loss of pressure in the aircraft (McGrath 1947).

A radio message was later received by Gander, reporting the incident at 10.15 local time. As the aircraft was only 500 miles south-east of Gander, so when the aircraft was under control, the Captain decided the return to Newfoundland. The doors to the navigator’s compartment were fixed, and the aircraft was repressurized to the point that the pressure would hold the door to the now open compartment.

A search was then conducted for the navigator, but he, nor his sextant or chronometer, could be found. It is assumed that he was using the equipment at the time of the incident (McGrath 1947). Notification was sent out through the Coast Guard to all ships to be on the lookout for the navigator, but as he had dropped four miles into the ocean, there was little chance of survival (AP 1947).

The aircraft returned to Gander at about 0400 GMT and passengers had to wait for another aircraft to be sent up from New York before departing for Shannon, Ireland (AP 1947; McGrath 1947).

Inside the aircraft taken in Gander after the incident. From the collection of Darrell Hillier.

Inside the aircraft taken in Gander after the incident. From the collection of Darrell Hillier.

The reason for the failure of the astrodome could not be explained by the crew. The cabin was not pressurized to the maximum, so it would be unlikely that the failure was due to excessive pressure in the cabin. And even if it were excessively pressurized, the relief valves would have prevented excess pressure. This was also unlikely because there were remains of plexiglass on the mounting, which suggested that the astrodome broke instead of coming loose and breaking free. Another theory put forward was that in extremely cold temperatures the plexiglass of the astrodome can become brittle and can shatter. At the time, the outside temperature was -20 C, so the cold causing it to shatter was unlikely because such equipment had been tested up to -50 C. Another possibility was that if the antenna had broken previous to the incident, and had been flapping in the airstream, it may have hit the dome and shattered it. The final theory was that Hart himself knocked against the dome or hit it with his sextant while he was taking a star reading. This theory is also unlikely as the aircraft was flying in clear weather and there was no turbulence at the time of the incident (McGrath 1947).

As this incident happened outside of the jurisdiction of Newfoundland, no further investigation occurred to be kept in the Newfoundland records (Walsh 1947). The matter was passed on to the US authorities (McGrath 1947). As a result of this incident, Lockheed technicians with the Civil Aeronautics Authority conducted investigations with Constellation at 20000 ft, but found that breaking the window caused little more than a condensation vapour, like what occurred in this incident (AP 1947). McGrath (1947) reports that a similar incident had occurred with a British Overseas Airways Corporation flight where the astrodome failed, but nothing was lost but some papers. TWA also developed further safety measures, working to change how star readings were taken to eliminate the need for astrodomes. As well, harnesses were installed for the navigators to wear, and within 48 hours of the incident, all domestic Constellations in the TWA fleet were fitted with an aluminum alloy dome as star readings were only necessary for overseas flights. TWA also reported that Lockheed was already working on improving the strength of the astrodome (Lovett 1947).

TWA advertisement from Atlantic Guardian 5(5) August 1948.

TWA advertisement from Atlantic Guardian 5(5) August 1948.


Associated Press (AP)

1947   TWA Navigator Thrown Out of Fast Plane Into Atlantic. Reading Eagle, 11 March 1947, p. 6.

Lovett, J. (ed.)

1947   Act to Bar Future Astrodome Failures. Starliner of Trans World Airline, 2(14): 2.

McGrath, T.M.

1947   Report on Loss of T.W.A. Navigator from Constellation Aircraft in Flight march 10, 1947. On File PANL AG/57/8, no. 7.


1947  Letter to Hon. Commissioner for Public Utilities and Supply from A.J. Walsh Commissioner for Justice and Defence. On File PANL AG/57/8, no.8.