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21 August 1949

21 PERSONS DIED IN A PLANE CRASH INCLUDING THREE RADIO OPERATORS

A Canso R.C.A.F. military aircraft crashed and burned in Manitoba on 21 August 1949 killing everyone onboard. Amongst the 21 victims were three radio operators, all married men returning to their families, who had spent two or more years in the Arctic, at Clyde River on Baffin Island. The three radio operators were:

Radio Operator Addison Bruce Neill of Glencoe, Ont.

Radio Operator Cecil Dawn McKenzie of Dartmouth, N.S.

Radio Operator B.S. McManus of Halifax, NS

 

Scroll down this page for details and news of the tragedy

 

 

A swath 600 feet long and 60 feet wide was cut through the timber by the Canso aircraft which crashed Sunday night. Bodies and wreckage were strewn over the path cut by the aircraft.

Lying at the end of the 600-foot swath the doomed plane cut through the trees is the largest single remaining piece of the R.C.A.F. amphibious Canso aircraft that plunged into the ground and claimed 21 lives, 80 miles east of Norway House Sunday night (August 21, 1949). Probe into the cause of the crash began Wednesday morning (August 24, 1949) when three investigating R.C.A.F. officers arrived in Winnipeg. In the foreground can be seen one of the trees charred by fire which broke out in the plane when it crashed.

Photo of the crew taken in Churchill, Manitoba a few hours before the crash

A Canso amphibious aircraft similar to the one which crashed

 

 

21 KILLED IN R.C.A.F. CANSO CRASH

BURNED WRECK FOUND IN NORTHERN MANITOBA AREA

LAND PARTY REACHES SCENE OF TRAGEDY

Lethbridge Herald Alberta

 

Winnipeg, Aug. 23 -- The R.C.A.F. disclosed today that all 21 persons aboard an amphibious Canso had been killed in the crash of the plane in northern Manitoba.


It was one of the worst crashes in Canadian aviation history.


Word of the tragedy emerged from Manitoba's northern wilderness after a land party from a Norseman aircraft reached the spot where the Canso had crashed Sunday while en route from Churchill, Man., to Winnipeg. The ground party reported "no survivors" among those on the Canso.


Another plane, also a Canso, has landed at Big Stone Lake, and a ground party is en route to the scene. A Beaver aircraft from Norway House has also landed on Big Stone Lake and its party, including a doctor, a coroner and an R.C.M.P. officer, are heading for the crash.


A Canso is circling overhead making certain the ground party gets into no difficulty. The ground party plans to set up a camp near the scene. Flt. Lt. Dave Avent of Vancouver, pilot of the aircraft which sighted the crashed plane, and Flt. Lt. Bob Flynn, Passmore, B.C. co-pilot, said there was a rise of 50 to 100 feet at the spot where the Canso crashed. They were attracted by red markings on the plane. Part of the tail assembly was pointing skywards. Avent had been in the air about 3 1/2 hours when he sighted the machine.


Air Commodore Martin Constello, air officer commanding No. 11 group, R.C.A.F. here, said a Dakota carrying paratroopers had circled over the wreck but the paratroopers saw no point in jumping. The area is rocky and muskeg swamps are numerous. Air Commodore Costello said the crashed Canso appeared to have hit a slight rise in the ground while going in on level flight after encountering a storm. An investigation will be held into the craft the air commodore said.


The crashed Canso was slighted at 9:35 a.m. C.D.T. today on a direct track from Churchill to Winnipeg and 80 miles east of Norway House, Man. Norway House is about 250 miles northeast of Winnipeg. Word that the plane had been sighted climaxed a search conducted since yesterday by the R.C.A.F. after the Canso had disappeared on the 600-mile flight from Churchill, on the shore of Hudson Bay, to Winnipeg. An armada of 30 searching planes either was in the hunt or preparing to join it when news of the Canso's sighting was received.


Aboard the Canso were 21 persons, seven of them crew members, four meteorological bureau men (three radio operators and one cook), a Canadian Press reporter and a young woman physiotherapist. Also aboard were eight Eskimos.


The plane left Winnipeg Aug. 15, piloted by Flt. Lt. FRANK J. RUSH of Winnipeg. It had been making a "jack-of-all-trades" flight through the northland and among its tasks was that of transferring four weather men stationed at the bleak Baffin Island outpost of Clyde River and picking up Eskimos convalescing from poliomvelitis at Chesterfield Inlet, N.W.T.


The Canso encountered thunderstorms after setting out from Churhill Sunday and reported heavy radio interference. R.C.A.F. authorities in Winnipeg thought it probably had set down on one of the innumerable lakes which dot the region to wait out the bad weather, which was responsible for lack of radio contact. The last radio word received from it advised listening operators to "wait," indicating that the sending operator perhaps was pausing to make an entry in his log.


The Canso was sighted by a Dakota piloted by Flt. Lt. F. D. Avent of Vancouver. Flt. Lt. Avent left Stevenson Field here at 6:05 a.m. C.D.T., and 3 1/2 hours later reported the discovery of the crashed aircraft.

 

he crashed Canso made its routine stops at Clyde River and Chesterfield Inlet without incident. It set out Sunday on the 4 1/2 hour flight to Winnipeg, and the last radio word from it was received around 8 p.m. The R.C.A.F. said Flt. Lt. Avent still was circling the scene of the crash. One of the Cansos en route piloted by Flt. Lt. A. B. Johnston of Simcoe, Ont., of No. 413 Squadron, Ottawa.


Another Canso has taken off from Winnipeg for the scene, together with a Dakota carrying six members of a para-rescue squad, three of them army men and three members of the R.C.A.F. Also aboard is a medical man, Dr. MacDonald of Rivers, Man.


A Norseman aircraft is being sent to the scene from The Pas. A Canso will try to land and report to the Dakota for the information of the para-rescue jump team which will drop to the place on the ground. The Dakota is carrying special medical supplies.


Members of the para-rescue squad are Capt. E. A MacDonald, Rivers, Man.; Sgt. C. R. McKanna, and Cpl. J. P. Molt; Sgt. L. Paulson, Edmonton; Cpl. R. W. Trent, Pathlow, Sask.; and Cpl. K. W. Clark, Edmonton. The first three members named are army men, the last three R.C.A.F. men.


The physiotherapist aboart the crashed Canso, 24-year-old CONSTANCE BEATTIE of Brockville, Ont., boarded it at Chesterfield Inlet, 460 miles north of Churchill and on the west coast of Hudson Bay. Also aboard when the plane took off from Winnipeg was 31-year-old JACK AVESON of C.P's Winnipeg bureau, gathering material for a series of stories about the north.


MISS BEATTIE had travelled into the near-Arctic area of Chesterfield Inlet last April to give "muscle re-education" treatment to Eskimos who had been afflicted with dreaded polio. The disease, in a sweep of the northern regions, had killed a number of Eskimos and had led to imposition of a quarantine covering thousands of square miles.


Of the seven Eskimos who were picked up Sunday, five were stretcher cases. Under the care of MISS BEATTIE, the Eskimos were to be taken to hospital in Winnipeg for treatment.


The four weather bureau men were returning home on furlough after a spell at Clyde River, 1,200 miles northeast of Churchill and several hundred miles inside the Arctic Circle. Name of only one of the four men was disclosed last night, that of ADDISON NEILL of Glencoe, Ont.


Intent on pursuing all possible clues, the air force reported it had dispatched a plane with an interpreter to the Berens River district in northern Manitoba following a report that two Indians there had sighted a parachute flare shortly before midnight on Sunday. Air force officials said they felt the report possibly had nothing to do with the flight of the missing plane. They considered the Indians might have confused lightning flashes for a flare.


Air force officials said those aboard the plane would be in no straits for lack of food. It was felt that if the plane came down safely it would be possible for sufficient provisions to be obtained from hunting, fishing and trappig in the district. In addition, a certain amoung of emergency rations had been carried aboard the plane. Equipment includes a rifle, fishing tackle and snares to trap small animals.


The para-rescue team is made up of three members -- Sgt. Larry Poulson, Cpt. Ken Clark and Cpl. R. W. S. Trent, all of Edmonton and operating as a unit for the last three years.

 

Ottawa, Aug. 23. -- (CP) -- The R.C.A.F. today released the names of three more persons missing in an air force Canso aircraft on a flight from Churchill, Man., to Winnipeg. All are members of the transport department. They are CECIL D. McKENZIE, a radio operator of Dartmouth, N.S.; B.S. McMANUS, radio operator of Halifax; W. N. GROFF, a cook from Kitchener, Ont.


Name of the fourth department employee on board the plane was released last night. He is ADDISON NEILL, a radio operator from Glencoe, Ont.
 

Additional names of casualties:
Pilot FRANCIS JOHN RUSH, Winnipeg.
Co-Pilot DANIEL SHUMAY.
Navigator A. G. EDEN.
ANIASIE AMAROK, Inuit passenger.
UBLURIAK OLLIE, Inuit passenger

 

57 Years Of Silence

Now-60-year-old documents shed light on the 'racist' aftermath

of a plane crash that killed 20 whites and Inuit

By Catherine Mitchell

Winnipeg Free Press

26 July 2009

 

Annie Ollie has heard enough.

 

Searching for years now for some basic truths about a plane crash in Northern Manitoba that took the life of her father's young, polio-stricken sister in 1949, the Arviat resident is struck silent by new facts revealed about the RCAF accident.

 

The plane crash was this province's greatest air disaster. The RCAF investigation into the cause of the crash was never made public, the truth carefully, purposely hidden for 60 years now.

 

This spring, spurred on by a call for help from Inuit families in the Eastern Arctic, I went looking for answers to a lot of outstanding questions about the tragedy. A month ago, the government files I requested from Library and Archives Canada arrived. I spent about eight hours combing through the faded copies of microfilmed documents.

The details of the investigation's findings are unsettling for Ollie and other residents in Nunavut who lost loved ones when the amphibious plane crashed in a severe storm Aug. 21 1949, near Norway House.

 

Only three years ago they found out their loved ones were buried in a mass, unmarked grave at the reserve, ending 57 years of mystery surrounding the crash there. Now, they've been given the answer -- or likely the closest thing to it -- to the mystery behind that decision, some explanation for why the bodies of the seven Inuit were treated differently than the 13 others, all white, all from Southern Canada, and taken with care and respect south to Winnipeg, then transported across the country to the hometowns for burial.

 

That decision to bury the Inuit -- bundled in canvas, placed into a single wooden coffin at the local cemetery -- appears to have been that of a single man, Dr. Joseph P. Moody, who was hired by the federal government to serve at Chesterfield Inlet. Moody handled, by himself, at least in the early days, a virulent polio epidemic that raced through the families and hamlets along the Hudson Bay coast in the winter of 1948 and into 1949.

 

An RCMP report and memos attached to it indicate that Dr. Moody issued the order not to bring the bodies of the seven Inuit, airlifted out for medical care at Winnipeg's King George Hospital, back to the Arctic.

It's a hard landing for the families who have been struggling to understand why the bodies weren't flown home.

 

"They were so racist," says Annie Ollie, of the mindset of non-aboriginals in authority in the mid-century administration of the Eastern Arctic, a land of nomadic Inuit only just starting to settle into centres with basic, government services.

 

"My people had to live that (racist attitude). I think it also affected how Dr. Moody made his decisions," says the soft-spoken Ollie. The polio epidemic of 1949 struck with a virulence never before recorded by medical authorities, decimating families and hamlets.

 

The RCAF Canso was sent to the High Arctic that August to drop off new employees at a Baffin Island weather station, and pick up four weathermen who had been there for two years or more. On the way south, it stopped at Chesterfield Inlet, picking up six polio-stricken Inuit, including Ollie's aunt, 15-year-old Ubluriak, and a Toronto physiotherapist who had answered a call for help from the Health Department that spring. At Churchill, it loaded a Canadian Press reporter and another polio victim, known as Oohotok, 26 of Kazan River. Pilot Francis John Rush, of Winnipeg, took to the air again late in the afternoon.

 

Hours later, he flew into a violent storm no one had forecast. Coming low over bog country near Big Stone Lake, the pilot cleared a small lake and a rocky outcrop of land on the other side, then smashed into the trees of the bush and crash-landed. All were killed instantly, some with body parts severed. It took days to find the plane and recover the bodies.

 

The crash caused heartbreak across Canada, to all three coasts. The tragedy, however, was compounded by a monumental betrayal out of the high offices of the Defence Department that hid from Canadians the truth behind, and the government's own culpability in, the crash. In fact, the details were even withheld from the Manitoba attorney general, who deferred calling a routine inquest, assuring the public that the Air Force investigation would reveal all.

 

"Transcripts of evidence may be released to the Attorney General but the findings and recommendations must not, repeat must not, be disclosed," wrote R.V. Mulligan from Air Force headquarters in Ottawa, on Sept. 10, 1949.

 

"It's so overwhelming," says Ollie.

 

Many elderly Inuit remember Dr. Moody, who served at a Chesterfield Inlet hospital run by Catholic missionary nurses.One Rankin Inlet resident, who lost his mother and three other relatives in the crash, is dumbfounded to learn, after all these years, that Moody is the reason the bodies did not come home.

 

Agnes Adams says her elderly uncle, Francois Kaput, is adamant that Moody never told his family their mother, Arnaluktituaq, her granddaughter, son-in-law and niece would not come back to Chesterfield.

 

"They were never told the bodies were going to be buried down south," says Adams, whose sister Aniasie (Arnaluktituaq's granddaughter) perished in the crash. "They waited for the bodies (to be sent back) but they never came." It is a cruel blow to her uncles, Kaput and Tony Amarok, who wondered for years where their mother's body lay.

 

Why the secrecy? Well, for a number of reasons.

 

The details show that Ottawa's own inadequate weather-forecasting coverage on that route contributed to the tragedy. There were only two federal weather stations relaying forecasts, every three hours, to Churchill. Another pilot who testified said the Air Force crews learned not to rely on the forecasting.

 

Pilot Rush was told to expect a moderate storm. Instead, the Canso hit a severe thunderstorm with sheet rain and lightning, flying in near-total darkness. This was confirmed by a bush pilot for Lamb Air who flew through the area shortly before the Canso.

 

The Defence Department summarily rejected the recommendation by chief investigator F. R. West to staff the weather stations along the flight path so hourly reports could be made. The reply was that so few flights were made along the path, the cost was not justified. That was wrong, even in a cold financial calculation, as was pointed out by West, to his credit, who said it was small expense compared to the "loss of one aircraft, to say nothing of its occupants."

 

Further, the Air Force's court of inquiry found the drop in air pressure the plane encountered caused its altimeter to "over-read by 300 to 600 feet." None of the altimeter information was ever released publicly, nor the fact that the inquiry decided that the error in judgment "of the pilot who proceeded in low height in adverse weather" was to blame. West decided that was it was not in the public interest and "would only embarrass all next of kin."

 

It was a perverse logic, adopted, I suspect, to avoid public scrutiny of some bad, bureaucratic decisions. Those in charge comforted their consciences by noting that all pilots knew the altimeter readings had to be recalculated to account for atmospheric-pressure changes. Imagine the odds of accurately plotting location while dodging lightning in sheet rain and near-zero visibility and adjusting elevation with an unreliable altimeter. Clearly, it defeated the Canso's seven-man RCAF crew.

 

There is no comfort in any of this for the families of those who died. For the Inuit, the story unveiled by the faded documents and memos, copied to microfilm and filed away for antiquity, is particularly awful. An RCMP report of the details on how the bodies were handled gives abundant detail about the white bodies and their personal effects, right down to the concern over finding a diamond engagement ring the physiotherapist's fiancé had sent to her at Chesterfield Inlet.

 

An RCMP memo indicates someone recognized the insensitivity of Dr. Moody's order to take the Inuit bodies to Norway House. Underscoring a paragraph that relayed Moody's instructions, a handwritten note to the director of the Northwest Territories and Yukon Administration said: "Apparently Dr. Moody has advised the next of kin of the Eskimos killed in the crash. I think it would be interesting to have a report from him regarding the reaction and his views."

 

The paper trail stopped there.

 

For Ollie, having searched for years for the story of the fate of her aunt, the story confirms what she's been told by elders of life with the white man in the days the North was being "settled."

 

Ollie has been to the mass grave at Norway House.

 

The story's not over yet. Ollie wants to reclaim the remains of her fathers' sister.

 

"That day will come that my aunt will be buried where she is from."

 

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