Jim Roe

by Frank Tibbo

Many Gander residents will remember that there have been two Roe Avenues in Gander – both called after the same aviator. The first was a short street which was later incorporated into Airport Boulevard when the streets were realigned. The present Roe Avenue is located in the Industrial Park.

James Anthony Roe was born in Kingston, Ontario, on February 4, 1935. He came to Gander with me in February 1956, as an Air Traffic Controller trainee. He, along with the other six of us who came to Gander, was on the first Air Traffic Control course ever organized by the federal government. The group commenced training in Toronto Airport in November 1955 and came to Gander in February 1956. Roe checked out as an Air Traffic Controller in the Gander Control Tower in June 1956.

Eastern Provincial Airways (EPA) was hiring pilots at the time, and the temptation was too much for Roe who had been a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force and had earned a commercial pilot's licence prior to his ATC training. Roe was hired by EPA on August 16, 1956, and flew with them until the incident in 1961.

His career came to a sad but heroic ending in August 1961. The Town Hall was in a second floor room of the first Post Office building on the corner of Elizabeth Drive and Airport Boulevard. I remember how sad it was to see his mother and father standing with bowed heads in that hall while Jack Robertson, mayor of Gander, issued the following statement:

“Town of Gander
October 16, 1962

This medal is being presented posthumously by the Royal Canadian Humane Association as a recognition of bravery and courage of the highest order which was displayed by the late aircraft pilot, James Roe, Jr., on August 29, 1961.

James Roe was born in Kingston, Ontario on February 4, 1935 and received his early education in that community. Following services with the R.C.A.F. he joined Eastern Provincial Airways in 1955. In six years of bush flying throughout Newfoundland, Labrador, Northern Quebec, the Eastern Arctic, and Greenland, he proved himself an airman of outstanding ability and resourcefulness

On August 29, 1961 in command of an Otter aircraft carrying one crewman and four passengers, he took off from Sonderstrom, Greenland on a flight to Egedesminde and points north. Approximately 10 miles from base at 3500 ft. and still climbing, a fuel leak developed and a few moments later the cockpit of the aircraft caught on fire. In the events which followed, Pilot Roe exhibited great heroism and courage as he completed his cockpit procedures in the face of horrifying difficulties while trying to combat the fire.

With complete disregard of danger to himself, he successfully landed and beached the aircraft on a lake and thus saved the lives of his passengers and crew.
Pilot Roe's injuries were so grievous that he was immediately flown to Toronto for the best medical attention. Although he demonstrated almost superhuman stamina, he succumbed to his injuries on September 7, 1961.

The Town of Gander is honoured that the parents of Pilot Jim Roe consented to have a street named after him as a perpetual recognition of his heroic action above and beyond the call of duty.”
 J. W. Robertson, Mayor

Note: In connection with the above document, it should be noted that Roe started with EPA in 1956 – not 1955 – and spent five – not six – years flying with that company, and that between his service with the R.C.A.F. and EPA, he trained as an Air Traffic Controller.

The Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air was also posthumously awarded to Jim Roe.


The names of the five people whose lives he saved are as follows: Knud Rasmusesen, Hotel Manager at Sondrestrom; Henning Dyrse, Station Manager, Scandinavian Airlines; Lieut. Daniel B. Catlin of the USAF; S.Sgt. Earl P. Frank of the USAF, and co-pilot/engineer Harris Robinson. The aircraft was an Otter with registration CF-MEX which was under contract to the Danish government.


Contributed by F. Tibbo

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