The forgotten crash

Steve
Steve Bartlett
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Remote memorial to people who died in Stephenville air tragedy in disrepair, group says

There are numerous fallen crosses on top of a remote mountain near Stephenville, and some aviation buffs are hoping to attract attention to the forgotten memorial.

“It’s a shame that this is where these people are resting, but there’s nothing being done to it,” says Lisa Daly, an archeologist and member of the Historic Aviation Committee, which researches the early days of flight in the province.

“Every few decades it gets fixed up and (then) abandoned.”

The markers commemorate the people onboard an American Overseas Airlines DC-4 that crashed into Hare Mountain minutes after taking off from Stephenville 66 years ago today.

Thirty-nine people were killed — half of them women and children, the wives and kids of American soldiers stationed in Germany.

The youngest child was three months of age, the oldest was 11.

The plane, known as Flag Ship New England, left about 3:30 a.m. and was en route to Berlin.

It was the worst commercial aviation tragedy in history at the time.

“This was a devastating crash,” says Dave Hebbard, who is also a member of the group. “You’re talking about a sheer granite wall, and about a 160-mile-an-hour impact straight in.”

Hare Mountain has been known as Crash Mountain ever since, although Hebbard maintains few people remember why.

He trekked to the site a year ago, and over the winter started probing deeper into the tragedy.

In early August, he, Daly and Shannon Green returned to the site and located the plane’s wreckage on a steep incline.

“It’s all blown to hell,” Hebbard says. “It’s all pieces. It exploded and burned for nine hours, flowing down the hill.”

 

The photographer and videographer went back again last month to shoot high-definition video for a documentary about the crash.

On that trip, he located a mass grave on the slope below the point of impact.

While the airline erected the markers and a monument on top of the mountain, Hebbard says a grave was dug on the incline below and rock was blasted over the plane and the bodies.

“That was how they buried everybody, basically,” he says.

Don Cormier of nearby Noel’s Pond has been the guide on each of the lengthy and challenging hikes to the site.

Besides knowing the terrain as a hunter and hiker, Cormier is connected to the crash because his father helped the Newfoundland Rangers respond to the tragedy.

“He never talked about it very much,” Cormier says. “When he’d get drinking, he’d talk about the crash site, but he wouldn’t say what they found, bodywise or anything like that. He’s just said it was a mess. ... If they found anything, (they’d) turn it into the Rangers, and if they found any body parts, just put it in one pile. That was their duties.”

Cormier says he’d been on Crash Hill skiing over the years, but had never been to where the plane struck.

He believes there must be a reason why they were able to locate the plane now.

“After all these years, I don’t know how to explain it,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s spiritual or not, but there must be a reason, there must be unrest or something, because that site should have been looked after.”

The Historic Aviation Committee wants to see it maintained from now on.

To its knowledge, there hasn’t been any kind of upkeep since the 1980s, when children of a crash victim flew to the site and re-erected fallen crosses.

Ideally, Daly says, they want it looked after like a site outside Gander where a Sabena DC-4 crashed and killed 27 in September 1946, just weeks before the Stephenville tragedy.

“It would be nice to fix it up, and I don’t know if we can find some way to arrange it the same way the Sabena (site) gets cared for,” says Daly.

Adds Hebbard, “It doesn’t seem right to me. They should be recognized in some way.”

The committee had an archeological permit and collected some artifacts at the site, including a woman’s shoe, a navigational tool and the co-pilot’s control panel.

The items are being preserved in a Memorial University lab.

Daly is taking steps to have the site designated as a provincial archeological site. That will see it protected by the Historic Resources Act.

“But that’s not a huge issue because it is a difficult hike,” she says, “and anyone looking to go there … I would highly discourage, because it’s difficult. … On the site itself you’ve got all this loose rock that sometimes you’d step and a rock just starts falling and keeps going, and it’s a little terrifying.”

Hebbard hopes to have the documentary completed within a year. He’s collected most of his footage and has interviewed whoever he could find with a knowledge of the crash, including Cormier and Tony White, whose father also helped the Rangers.

“It’s 66 years ago,” Hebbard says. “Everybody is gone.”

 

sbartlett@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @SteveBartlett_

 

Organizations: Historic Aviation Committee, Rangers, A4Historic Aviation Committee

Geographic location: Stephenville, American Overseas Airlines DC, Gander Sabena DC

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Russ Moore
    October 09, 2012 - 09:30

    About 2 weeks before Flagship New England's crash I provided equipment and a movie to demonstrate its use on this aircraft during a test flight from Laguadia. We also did experiments to attempt forcing the entry door open during flight, as a drunken or crazed passenger might. Iam unable to find Hare Mountain on my NL map. Wuld like to know its location and distance from Stephenville. Thanks for you great article. Russ

    • David
      April 09, 2014 - 14:29

      Anyone with information on this crash please contact me at dhebbard@nf.sympatico.ca Thank you.

  • brian
    October 04, 2012 - 11:58

    interesting reading .i heard my dad speak of it but he did not show the location.can anyone explain or point it out ?may they rest in peace.

  • Harvey
    October 04, 2012 - 07:30

    Most people in the Bay St. George area know about this long-ago crash. Hopefully the Town of Stephenville returns the items to the Harmon Airport for all to see.....and the crash site is given the care and maintenance it deserves. (but I doubt it.)

  • Rebecca
    October 03, 2012 - 23:40

    Such a great story! I lived on the west coast for a couple of years and never once heard about this crash which really disappoints me. The people who lost their lives so tragically need to be respected better and it's apart of our history. I'm so glad that something is being done now to try and preserve this site and hike. I recently hiked the Burgoyen's Cove plane crash and thought it was an eerie yet, spectacular site to see. Sadly, there was no signage anywhere!! Our friend in the car ahead of us had hiked it a long time ago so we had a small idea but there is nothing leading you to the exact spot. I think there's one sign at the turn off to the quarry and plane crash off the main road but once you make the turn you've got to find your own way. Anyways, hopefully someday more will be done to keep all sites like this well maintained out of respect and dignity to those who lost their lives and to remember the history. We should never forget these events. I hope to hear about more developments with this story; keep up the great work and research!

  • David Hebbard
    October 03, 2012 - 12:58

    We would like to hear from anyone with stories or knowledge of this crash Please contact us at historicaviation@gmail.com Thank you. David Hebbard

  • Glen
    October 03, 2012 - 12:47

    Awesome Article!!!! Great to see a piece like this in the paper!

  • Allan Campbell
    October 03, 2012 - 11:56

    if they are into Historic Aviation matters; there have been several more crashes in the area; although none as massive as this one was

  • Ken O'Brien
    October 03, 2012 - 09:02

    Good to see that people are keeping this memory alive. Many families faced tragedy as a result of this crash. It's our duty to remember such events.

  • Trevor
    October 03, 2012 - 08:53

    I've always felt that this crash site deserved more recognition. It was a terrible tragedy that it seems few people outside of the Stephenville area have ever heard of. As is always the case, Stephenville's aviation history gets swept under the rug time and time again. I am a history student at MUN and have found that trying to do research into the story of aviation for Stephenville is a difficult task. There are few records/accounts available and very little writing or attention paid to events such as this crash. Hopefully the site can be repaired and developed into a proper memorial.

  • D.B.Powell
    October 03, 2012 - 08:13

    My Dad was still in Britain at the time after just being dischargedin the summer of 1946 from war service in the RN. My brother and I were born in the U.K. but growing up in NL I remember Dad pointing out the hill from the highway and telling us it was the site of a terrible crash of an aifrcraft taking off from Harmon Field just after the war. Thanks to the folk who did all the hiking, climbing and research to uncover this story of Newfoundland aviation history and tragic loss of life.

  • Lisa Daly
    October 03, 2012 - 08:04

    The artifacts are currently at MUN to undergo conservation. Once they are cataloged and stable they will be transferred to the collection at the Rooms. Even though they are currently at MUN, they are the property of the province, as per the archaeological permit used to collect them and investigate the site.

  • Lisa Daly
    October 03, 2012 - 07:44

    The artifacts are currently at MUN to undergo conservation. Once they are cataloged and stable they will be transferred to the collection at the Rooms. Even though they are currently at MUN, they are the property of the province, as per the archaeological permit used to collect them and investigate the site.

  • jackey
    October 03, 2012 - 07:31

    A great article. I never heard of this until reading this.

  • roy
    October 03, 2012 - 07:21

    First time i heard of this plane crash. Why are some artifacts kept at MUN and not at the Rooms or some other appropriate place. Looking foreward to hearing more.

  • Sherrieo
    October 03, 2012 - 06:45

    thanks for Sharing..i never heard of it..very sad and heartbreaking..there are plane crashes or memorials all the time..but i have never heard this tragic story..looking forward to the biography and hope that this continues on..so horrific...

    • P.L.Braye
      October 03, 2012 - 10:06

      This is most interesting. I have never heard of this and I grew up on the west coast. I too hope there is something more done to preserve the memorial site. I also look forward to hearing more of the research being done.