All posts tagged USAAF

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.



The last post looked at the B-17 that can be found in the Thomas Howe Demonstration Forest in Gander, and discussed what can happen to sites when they are not offered protection but yet are accessible to the public. Prior to the creation of Thomas Howe, the highway was put through the area and the crash site became much more accessible. Due to its accessibility, a lot of the wreckage has been removed. It’s a common theme, and happens whenever a road passes near a site. I’m not saying that everything needs to stay just as it is, but if aircraft material is removed from a site without anything being recorded, the information it can give is lost. This information can give more information about what happened, but if all that is left are a couple of landing gears (figure 1) and bits of steel, the site can really tell us nothing about what happened.

Figure 1: Landing gear with some evidence of fire. Photo by Lisa M. Daly, 2010.

In the Gander area, USAAF B-17 44-6344 can be found between the Thomas Howe Demonstration Forest and the Silent Witness Memorial. It is just off the Trans-Canada Highway, and is relatively accessible. For this reason, there is very little that remains on the site. In fact, there is what looks to be a fire pit where people who were visiting the site stopped and had a lunch, leaving behind their pop bottles (figure 2).

Figure 2: Modern pop bottles on site. Photo by Lisa M. Daly, 2010.

USAAF B-17G 44-6344 crashed 4 August 1944 at 0218GMT. The aircraft made a normal takeoff from runway 23 (235 degrees) en route to the Azores, rose in a steep climb to 200 to 400 feet in a light rain, when the aircraft’s left wing began to drop as if the aircraft were going to make a diving turn. Witnesses described the dip in the wing as resembling a stall (figure 3). The aircraft descended at a 30 to 40 degree angle, and disappeared from view behind the trees. It crashed left wing first and exploded immediately in a 200 to 300 foot high flare (Blackeslee et al. 1944). An eye witness, USAAF navigator Andrew H. Hines, Jr. remembers the crash as follows:

Figure 3: Propeller hub on site. Photo by Lisa M. Daly, 2010.

Air traffic on the North Atlantic crossing was severely impaired. At the time our aircraft was scheduled to cross, planes were beginning to “pile up”, awaiting weather, and it became necessary to move them out. On approximately August 4th we were scheduled to fly the next leg of our trip – Gandar [sic] to Azores.

Our crew was briefed for the flight and we were assigned the position of number 3 for takeoff. As we taxied toward the end of the runway we could see in the east lightning and bad weather from an approaching storm. At the end of the runway we stopped while number 1 took off. He cleared the end of the runway successfully and disappeared into the murk of the approaching bad weather.

Number 2 pulled out on the runway and accelerated for take off. As number 3 we pulled out behind the vacated area and began engine acceleration for our own take off. Number 2 cleared the runway and climbed slightly then heeled over and crashed into the ground. The sky lit up. As number 2 struck and caught fire, our pilot accelerated our engines and we began to roll toward our own take off. We cleared the end of the runway and lifted into the air slightly and flew by the burning wreck of number 2. It was a boiling sea of flames. No one escaped alive. We passed, gained altitude and were immediately in a zone of St. Elmo’s Fire. A ring of sparks marked the tips of our four rotating propellers. Arcs of static electricity began to dance though the aircraft. […] After a few minutes we left the disturbed weather. I had a clear sight of St. John’s which I used as a point of departure for our flight to the Azores (pers. comm. 2 Aug 2013; see table for crew).


Name Serial No. Rank Serial No. Unit Duty Injuries
Oppenheimer, Saul J. 819304 2nd Lt. 819304 15th AF Pilot Fatal
Wampler, Chester C. 767028 2nd Lt. 767028 15th AF Co-pilot Fatal
Hild, Malcolm H. T3200 F/O T3200 15th AF Navigator Fatal
Harrog, David L. 719071 2nd Lt. 719071 15th AF Bombadier Fatal
Faulconer, Warren G. 13143604 Sgt. 13143604 15th AF AEO Fatal
Lawson, Gordon T. Jr. 17072183 Cpl. 17072183 15th AF ROB Fatal
Ruggeri, William 36559279 Cpl. 36559279 15th AF AB Fatal
Shelley, Keith M. 13092412 Cpl. 13092412 15th AF AROG Fatal
Leathers, Maurice E. 37678642 Cpl. 37678642 15th AF AG Fatal
Taylor, Forrest G. 19054972 Cpl. 19054972 15th AF AAG Fatal

Crew list for USAAF B-17 44-6344. Adapted from Blackeslee et al. 1944.

One pilot, Stanley L. Anderson, attempted to contact the control tower to inform them of the crash, but other aircraft interfered with getting through. After trying four times, Anderson went directly to Control Operations and informed them of the crash. The subsequent investigation could not find the cause of the accident, but believed that it was due to an engine stall. The aircraft had had some maintenance done on its flight indicator, but the investigation found that this was not a factor in the crash (Blackeslee et al. 1944).

Figure 4: Melted aluminum. Photo by Lisa M. Daly, 2010.

As previously stated, there is very little left to this aircraft, just a few larger pieces like landing gears. All aluminum and copper has been removed from the site, except for a little bit of melted aluminum (figure 4). According to Frank Tibbo, some of the damage was due to a forest fire in that area, and the scars of that can be seen in how the area has fewer trees than the surrounding forest. It is unknown if the melted aluminum is from the heat of the crash or the later forest fire. That said, some of the wreckage could have been removed when highway crews were putting in a culvert close to the site, or some could be covered by the highway (figure 5).

Figure 5: Wreckage in the drainage ditch near the highway. Photo by Shannon K. Green, 2010.

This site is an example of what can happen to sites if they are accessible and not protected, especially when the cost of scrap metal is high. Most sites I have visited show at least some evidence of trying to remove aluminum, and I have been asked by people “how much copper is still there?” which is usually a red flag to not tell that person where a site is located. While most people will respect a site, especially if there is some form of memorial present, it only takes a couple of people to completely destroy a site.

Measuring the artifacts on site. Photo by Shannon K. Green, 2010.


Blackeslee, H.B., W.H. Lang and J.E. Stewart
1944      War Department U.S. Army Air Force Report of Aircraft Accident. War Department, Gander, Newfoundland. Ms. available from

Hines, A.H.
2013 Personal communication via email, 2 August 2013

Tibbo, F.
2010 Personal communication