A tangled web

Steve Bartlett
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Reports on Gander crash caused major ruckus

An RCMP officer examines the wreckage of an Arrow Air DC-8 jetliner Dec. 13, 1985 — the day after it crashed outside Gander, killing 256 people on board.


Arrow Air — 25 years later

The conclusion that Arrow Air Flight 1285 crashed because of ice on the wings caused a major rift within the Canadian Aviation Safety Board (CASB).

News stories from the time indicate just how divided the board was.

“Two factions of the Canadian Aviation Safety Board feuded openly at a news conference called to release the board’s findings, each accusing the other of distorting or ignoring key evidence in the Gander crash,” The New York Times reported on Dec. 8, 1988.

Five of the board’s members supported ice as the probable cause.

The other four believed an in-flight fire, which may have resulted from detonations, brought the plane down. The group did a report of its own, titled “Dissenting Opinion.”

Les Filotas was in the minority, and 25 years after the Gander crash, he’s still not buying the icing theory.

“I know what happened, but why it happened is pure guessing,” said Filotas, who released “Improbable Cause,” a book in which he documented what led to the conflicting reports.

The infighting within the CASB prompted Ottawa to ask a former Supreme Court judge to see if a new investigation into the Gander crash should be launched.

Justice Willard Estey deemed there was no need for another probe, saying it wouldn’t be fair to the families of the fallen soldiers.

He also said the ice theory couldn’t be proven.

Even though the crash is one of the largest single-day losses of life in American military history, the U.S. did not launch a full public investigation into Flight 1285.

There was a two-day hearing in December 1990 by the House Judiciary and Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice.

According to a 1992 Time magazine report, that “ended without a call for action, despite surprising revelations of FBI apathy.”

The magazine reported that the subcommittee found an FBI forensics team had flown to Newfoundland after the crash and waited for whatever conclusions “Canadian authorities saw fit to share with them.”

The agents reportedly returned home after 36 hours and accepted the conclusion that terrorism wasn’t involved.

“The FBI claimed the Canadians did not allow its agents to visit the crash site or participate in the investigation,” Time reported.

The magazine story noted that a U.S. Army official who arrived at Gander hours after the crash was quoted by Arrow Air’s maintenance chief as wanting “to bulldoze the site immediately.”

The official, Maj. Gen. John Crosby, denied making the comment.

Time also reported a White House spokesperson as saying there was “no evidence of sabotage or an explosion in flight.”

Days after the magazine story appeared in April 1992, there was an unsuccessful attempt to establish a commission to investigate the crash.

Filotas, in a follow-up email to his interview with The Telegram, said American military and civil authorities stood by in silence as the Canadian investigation disintegrated into chaos.

He also suggests there is slender hope for new information on the crash. American records on Arrow Air are reportedly sealed.

Ottawa reorganized the CASB after Estey’s finding. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has handled crash investigations since 1990.



Twitter: @bartlett_steve

Organizations: Canadian Aviation Safety Board, FBI, New York Times Time magazine Supreme Court Arrow Air House Judiciary U.S. Army The Telegram Transportation Safety Board of Canada

Geographic location: Ottawa, U.S., Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Mark F
    December 12, 2013 - 00:04

    To all the families and friends of the soldiers who perished on Dec 12th 1985. Please know they will always be remembered and missed. I was there to escort them home and see many to their final resting place.

  • Mark
    December 11, 2013 - 21:01

    To those who perished on that fateful day.... You will always be missed and remembered. To the families and friends I share your grief and struggle.

  • Captain McIvor
    December 02, 2013 - 07:06

    Ordinary citizens will always have a hard time understanding how a thin layer of ice could bring down a huge aircraft. It is sometimes hard for even pilots to understand but the weight of scientific evidence is unquestionable. Dissenting member Les Filotas has been proven wrong over and over again, in other crashes in places like Dryden Ontario. There is no person today with any expertise in aviation who would see him as anything other than a nutbar conspiracist. At the time, he said it was "impossible for ice to bring down an aircraft" but he has now been proven wrong again and again. Sadly, it was not a terrorist act or a government cover up; it was ice on the wing of a heavily-loaded aircraft.

    • Mark
      December 11, 2013 - 17:23

      Hey Cap, at this point nobody questions that an aircraft can be caused to crash by many rather odd means including icing. However the other planes that took off had no problem. This particular plane managed to take off at least twice before with the same "heavy" load. Several questions remain unanswered regarless of the cause. The families and friends are asking for answers.

    • Mark
      December 11, 2013 - 17:27

      Tomorrow marks the day of the crash. I was there that day in the gym when the news was given. I was there in Delaware, for escort duty, and at many of the funerals. I was also there when Arrow Air tried to offer money to the loved ones to sign away any right for further compensation. Those days still haunt me.

  • Amara Snell
    June 20, 2013 - 15:52

    My uncle died in this crash when I was five. He was like a father to me. The only father I knew. I agree this has been covered up and to this day I want to know what happened to my uncle. Brian Harris I love you and wish you hadn't lost your life for people who work covertly and lie for self gain

  • Gabe Dixon
    August 22, 2012 - 15:17

    My brother SP4 Thomas Dewayne Dixon was on that flight. He and 247 other soldiers were murded! 27 years later, the families still don't know why. Thanks to Les we understand how the investigation was botched.

  • Pam Holt
    February 24, 2012 - 15:20

    Has anyone tried Freedom of Information for White House Documents of the time? I was heavily involved with this flight, you may remember that the White House ruled out sabotage within 4 hours of the plane going in, it was still burning. Because of the cover up I doubt that we will ever know what happened but I would love to know what they were afraid of.

  • darrin mcdearmon
    January 21, 2011 - 14:31

    we are tired of hearing the lies of the military . a blind man could see there is a coverup we want the truth. dont say it wouldnt be fair to the families to open the investigation !!!!!! it the only thing that is fair!!!!!!!!!!

    • Phyllis Gerdes
      March 25, 2011 - 11:57

      We the parents of SP4 Scott Warren Gerdes who was one of the soldiers killed in this crash would like to thank Darrin for his comment! The families know more than people think we know and we would appreciate people contacting us about our findings! The crash is the one of just the many coverups by our government and we want the truth! You don't say it was ice on the wings and then seal the records for at least 70 years!