Story brought back memories

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I read with interest the article in The Telegram dated Oct. 3 regarding the tragic crash of an American aircraft while taking off from Harmon Airforce base in Stephenville on Oct. 3, 1946.

I was employed a the time by the government of the United States at Harmon Airforce Base.

As stated in the Telegram article, the crash of an American Overseas Airlines flight took place 66 years ago, killing all 39 on board when it slammed into Hare Mountain (elevation 1,400 feet) shortly after takeoff after gaining an altitude of 1,300 feet. Hare Mountain has since been named Crash Hill.

It was the worst civil aviation disaster in U.S. history to that date. It was a Thursday morning, 3:30 to be exact.

I was 20 years old.

Dug by hand

American Airforce personnel and a number of civilians retrieved all human remains from the crash site and buried them in a large grave that they had dug by hand with picks and shovels. The grave site was located on a fairly large terrace or plateau below the crest of the mountain overlooking Alder Pond.

There was adequate topsoil at that location and getting the depth necessary was not as difficult as first thought.

Several days later, on Sunday, Oct. 6, 1946, I was one of six volunteers who walked to the site to prepare the grave for the ecumenical burial service that was planned for 3:30 that afternoon.

The uphill trek through marshland and the foothills of the mountain (covered in brush and trees) took approximately three hours.

The natural trail was wet and muddy, forcing us to walk in single file.

Our group of six was led by Mr. Martin.

We represented the Knights of Columbus, of which I was a member at the time.

The purpose of our volunteering was to bring large wooden crosses and markers to the burial site.

Shocking sight

When we arrived at the site, we were appalled at the litter and debris that was scattered over such a large area. There were photographs, letters, children’s toys, articles of clothing and other personal items strewn amongst pieces of the aircraft.

We proceeded to place the crosses and markers around the designated parts of the grave in time for the start of the ecumenical service.

All together, there were 30 people in attendance, including three members of the Newfoundland Rangers.

During the service, an American

C-54 Military Aircraft circled overhead at low altitude. The aircraft had clergy of different denominations onboard and air-to-ground communications. It was a solemn occasion and one to be remembered.

Many weeks later, I was honoured to receive a letter of appreciation from the government of the United States. It was postmarked Washington, D.C.

Ronald J. Reardon writes from Mount Pearl

Organizations: The Telegram, Harmon Airforce Base, American Overseas Airlines Knights of Columbus

Geographic location: United States, Stephenville, Mount Pearl

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Recent comments

  • Lisa Daly
    February 25, 2014 - 13:33

    Thank you Mr. Reardon. I read this letter last year and have read it many times since. I am the archaeologist who is working on and researching the site and your story is a wonderful one to tell how Newfoundlanders played an important part in this tragedy. Thank you.

  • Ron Tizzard
    December 12, 2012 - 08:21

    Thank you for sharing that story, it was the first I've ever heard of it; hmmmm!; very similar to the more recent 'close to Christmas' story with an American link i.e. near the Gander Airport, soldiers heading home. Sad stories. Thank you again.