Warbird Down





Airplane accidents and incidents – pre 1960 Gander
by Robert Pelley

revised 2013/11/20

There is a lot of information available about accidents and incidents in the aviation world - but finding it can be tedious. For those who require detailed information, accident reports can often be bought for 15-25$. Then again, one needs some basic information in order to decide if the detailed report is useful in the first place.

In the case of Gander, there is some information, available from multiple sources, but there is no quick reference which gives an organized overview of all these aviation related events. I decided therefore to attempt to complete such a list.

The period covered corresponds with that of the GAHS, basically the era before the building of the new terminal and new townsite. For this reason, crashes such as the US Navy Constellation, the Czechoslovakian airliner and the Arrow catastrophe are absent.

The level of detail of the source information is very variable. In some cases, the descriptions are fairly complete but in other cases, they might say simply that a given aircraft had an accident but without saying what happened to the plane later. Was it scrapped or was it repaired? Sometimes the only way to figure it out is to see if it is found elsewhere later. For example, if a B-24 was damaged in Gander, perhaps we can find it flying later in Europe, which means obviously that it was repaired.

From time to time a source will say that an aircraft was involved in an incident, with no other detail.  Even though some of these events may  seem relatively inconsequential, I have included them for completeness and in case they become important later.

Another problem is that crash sites locations are often missing. However if we find that the wreckage was salvaged and there nothing left, knowing the exact location might be much less important.

I have been told by my father Calvin Pelley (who started working in Gander at the start of the construction) that in the early 1950s, at the start of the Cold War, teams of Americans visited a number of crash sites to cover them over. This was done in order to help Search and Rescue teams who then would not confuse any new sites with older WW11 sites. Recording old crash sites may become therefore more difficult over time.

It also happens from time to time that the information is simply incorrect, when the serial number given for a B-17, for example, is the same given for a small single engine plane. By definition, one of them is wrong. One must realize also that the information was put on record by humans who may have incorrectly observed the situation. And sometimes this information is added to, based perhaps on hearsay or faded recollections, many years after the fact.

Based on the above and the fact that I have used and combined as best I could a variety of sources which would be difficult to document, the list given below should be in no way considered for an official purposes. It is simply my best effort under the circumstances and I hope that feedback over time will help increase its accuracy.

In fact already a certain amount of feedback has already come in, permitting this first major revision. I am particularly indebted to Mr Darrell Hillier, historian, who some years ago was able to obtain information from files in the National Archives in Ottawa. Unfortunately, due to budgets cuts, this service is no longer available, without actually going to Ottawa.

The information in the tables attached is divided into several arbitrary sections, based on the “volume of traffic”:

- United States Army Air Force (USAAF) B-17 Flying Fortress bombers
- USAAF B-24 Liberators
- USAAF aircraft of other types
- RCAF, RAF and other aircraft

There was one incident I had trouble putting in the table. In the early 50s work was being done in the US to develop a polio vaccine. To do so, they needed rhesus monkeys, which were bought in by Seaboard and Western with many hundreds by plane. I myself saw these planes close up on the ramp and I am sure ATC could smell these planes before they actually showed up on radar. One winter’s evening a number of the monkeys escaped from their cages and headed from the warm terminal building where they could soon be seen hanging from the rafters, providing much amusement for onlookers and much work for staff.  Too bad they couldn’t have brought jungle temperatures along at the same time!

As mentioned above, this list should NOT be used for any official purposes or as an authoritative source.  Any suggestions for modifications or inclusions should be sent Robert Pelley via the GAHS webmaster.


Researched by R G Pelley

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