Warbird Down





Midair Collision Over Gander

by Frank Tibbo & Dr. Lisa Daly

The survival rate from mid-air collisions is only a fraction better than falling from an aircraft with no parachute. Miracles do happen and one of these in the class of "you have to see it to believe it" happened in Australia in the 1930s. I have a picture (too poor to reproduce) that is from a newspaper. It shows one aircraft on back of another. They collided, going in the same direction, and the one underneath proceeded to land successfully saving the occupants' lives on both aircraft.

In May 1983 two fighter jets collided while practising dogfights. One pilot ejected immediately, but the second decided to try to land. The pilot that decided to land didn't realize, until he was on the runway, that he had a wing torn off. The company that made the jet was contacted and were asked if it was possible to land the fighter jet on one wing. The company replied that it is aerodynamically impossible, as confirmed by computer simulations. After they saw the photograph, they changed their minds. They attributed it to the amount of lift generated by the engine intake/body and the skill of the pilot.

There was a lot of air traffic over Gander during WWII and more than a few crashes. The remnants of a few are still evident. There is only one record of a mid-air collision.

At approximately 5 p.m. local time on October 27, 1943, a Canadian Hurricane fighter aircraft of 126 Squadron and an American A-20C (Boston), registration BZ296, piloted by Major Sobey F. Allen, the U S Base Operations Officer, were flying in the vicinity of Benton for preauthorized photographic manoeuvres.

The Hurricane was travelling northeast climbing, and the Boston was heading southeast and descending. The aircraft either didn't see each other or saw each other too late because they collided at approximately 4,000 feet southeast of the field.

Witnesses, some of whom are still living at Gander, said it looked like the Hurricane was passing under the Boston, but the right wing of each aircraft struck with disastrous results.

The Hurricane's wing broke off immediately, and the plane went into a tight spin crashing at the edge of a small pond nearby. The pilot bailed out and landed safely.

The Boston went into a slow gliding rate turn, then turned over into a steep dive. The right wing came off a few hundred feet above the ground, and it crashed in the woods between Benton and Deadman's Pond. It exploded on impact and burned.

Major Sobey F. Allen was killed along with two crew members and a passenger. The names of the crew members and the passenger, who was probably the photographer, are not available.

The following entry is in the RCAF Station Diary:

Oct. 27/43 Major Sobey Allen and three enlisted men were killed when their A-20C collided with an RCAF Hurricane in mid-air.

Editors Note: Dr. Lisa Daly, in her Aviation Archeology Thesis, relates her investigation of this accident on page 117 - which we have extracted below.

USAAF A-20 (DfAp-13) and RCAF Hurricane 5496 (DfAp-16)


A few days prior to 27 October 1943, USAAF Major Allen and RCAF Flight Commander F/O Taylor discussed making an "air fighting practice flight" where they would spend an afternoon "chasing each other around for a while" (McGlade and Wilkins 1943). The plan was that they would start their flights at a sufficient distance from each other that neither would have an advantage, then they would turn into each other as if to attack. It was agreed that in the case of head on attacks, they would break away to port. On 27 October 1943, F/O Taylor in an RCAF Hurricane and a crew of four including Major Allen (Table 5.5) in an A-20C (Boston) took off just before 1700 GMT and flew south west of the aerodrome.

They climbed above 3000 feet, manoeuvred into position and flew into each other as if in a head on attack. According to sole survivor, F/O Taylor, the pilot of the RCAF Hurricane:

When we turned in at approximately 3,000 yds. apart it placed us at a position head on to one another – I, slightly below the Boston; the Boston as diving and I as climbing through about 200 ft. As the distance between us decreased to about 300 yds. the Boston pulled up gradually and turned slightly to port while I turned slightly to port also; it was here I thought we had ample clearance. Then at about 100 yds. the Boston made a rapid and very decisive movement downwards, as if, in my opinion, he was either fixing his sights on me or had lost me for an instant. The upward movement, although begun, was never completed because it was at this instant that our wings collided. We were both turning slightly to port when this movement or manoeuvre occurred (McGlade and Wilkins 1943).

As the aircraft brushed right wings, the wing immediately broke off of the Hurricane and the aircraft went into a tight spin. The pilot abandoned the aircraft and parachuted to safety. He suffered only slight bruises. The aircraft crashed at the edge of a small, unnamed pond near the airport (McGlade and Wilkins 1943). On 2 November 1943, the aircraft was transferred to No. 19 Sub-Repair Depot at Gander for scrapping (Walker 2012).

The A-20 continued on course for a few seconds then went into "a slow gliding right turn, then 'winged over' into a steep dive and crashed in the vicinity of Dead Man's Pond" (McGlade and Wilkins 1943). The right wing of the A-20C came off a few hundred feet above the ground. The remainder of the aircraft exploded and burned upon impact. None of the crew of the A-20 had the opportunity to bail out and there were no survivors (McGlade and Wilkins 1943).

The circumstances of the crash were listed as a "head on attack between Hurricane (RCAF) and A-20 (USAAF)" and the cause listed as a "mid-air collision due to error of judgement on the
part of both pilots and insufficient planning" (McGlade and Wilkins 1943).

Both pilots were highly experienced, and no flying regulations had been violated in the activity, but the pilots did not have any previously agreed upon visual clues in case of interrupted radio contact. Had such visuals been agreed upon previous to the flight, the pilots would have had a better idea of what the other was going to do (McGlade and Wilkins 1943).


According to McGlade and Wilkins (1943), "this as [sic] the first reported incident at the Unit of personnel of the U.S.A.A.F. and R.C.A.F. co-operating on such a flight". Although it was a first time incident, it does show a camaraderie and respect between at least the two pilots involved in the incident. The pilots discussed the practice flight prior to the activity, and later the day for the flight was arranged between them over a telephone conversation (McGlade and Wilkins 1943).

This indicated that it was possibly first discussed socially, but even if it were only arranged professionally, it indicates contact and mutual respect between USAAF and RCAF air crew. Unfortunately, the RCAF records, beyond the crash card, are not available to add further information on this crash or the potential social relationship between F/O Taylor and Major Allen.

The fact that the information available, including photographs of the RCAF crash, through USAAF records indicates that even though both sides would have led their own investigations with a focus on their own aircraft, at least on the side of the USAAF, the other crash was also fully investigated and the records saved.

In the case of the USAAF records, the Hurricane was given a full crash report which was then attached to the record of the A-20, including the pilot's name, rank, duty and serial number, and the amount of damage to the aircraft. On the other hand, the crash card for the Hurricane fully lists F/O Taylor, but as for the USAAF crew, the crash card only states "4 occupants of Boston/(Pilot and crew of three)/All killed" (Figure 5.10). Even if the USAAF were only investigating the Hurricane because it collided with the A-20, it is because of this sharing of information between the two groups that there are images and a record available of the crash of the RCAF Hurricane.

The lack of material remaining at the site of the USAAF A-20C has been attributed to war-time recovery and salvage. One of the engines could not be found, and the one that was found was heavily damaged (Figure 5.11).

Similarly, no instruments or large identifiable pieces were found on site. Normally, when sites have very little remaining, it is due to more contemporary salvagers looking for scrap metal to sell, but this site does not indicate that this is the case. The remains of a campfire were found relatively close to the site, but the area to the west of the crash, closer to the airport perimeter is where researchers first looked for the aircraft. This area was full of evidence of human activity, such as soda bottles, buckets, and other debris. It is possible that the area is used for hunting. Given that material remains on site, it is unlikely that contemporary scrap hunters have recovered the aircraft.

The pieces that remain on site would be of value for their aluminum content, and many of them are small enough that they would be easily transported from the site. In this case, there does not even seem to be much movement of materials around the site, or damage caused by anything other than the initial incident


Source: F. Tibbo & Dr. Lisa Daly


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