Whatever became of pilot Thomas Bindermann?

Published on July 28, 2014
Map showing part of the Labrador coast and the location of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The illustration in the upper right is of a twin-engine Gemini 1-A. Bindermann crash-landed his craft some 60 miles (100 kilometres) southeast of Goose Bay. — Submitted image

If there is nothing else to be gleaned from the story of Thomas Bindermann, it is certainly an example of that solid piece of search and rescue advice: when your plane ditches, stay with it; you are more likely to be found.

Take it from the 4x5-inch pocket booklet “Land and Sea Emergencies,” published by the RCAF in 1948: “Whenever possible, force land rather than bail out. The advantage of having your aircraft near you greatly increases your chances of being seen and found.”

It is now nearly 50 years since Bindermann ditched his twin-engine plane in the Labrador hinterland, walked away from it and disappeared.

At 33, Bindermann was youthful and likely impatient. The plane was down; it was August; by foot, Goose Bay would be a long way off, but an achievable goal nevertheless. He was 60 miles southeast of the airport town.

I asked a person who is very familiar with the wild country in this province. He said there are many variables when it comes to trying to determine how much distance a man could cover if stranded in the bush. He could average 10 kilometres a day — it was August and there would be some 17 hours of daylight per day. But if the downed pilot was out of shape, say, overweight (and we knew he smoked), then his progress would be considerably less than 10 kms/day.

The first reaction from my “source” when I described the scenario in Labrador? “Eaten by bears.”

I first came upon a reference to the Montreal pilot Bindermann in a book which John Parsons of Shearstown wrote in 1967 and published by Vantage Press three years later. The book sprang from a summer working with Dr. W. F. Summers (MUN Geography Department, and author, with Mary E. Summers, of “Geography of Newfoundland,” 1972) on a Labrador fisheries development program.

Parsons turned that experience, and an overall affection for Labrador, into a personal celebration of the region. In fact, Parsons was in Labrador when Bindermann’s plane ditched in 1965 and he includes this: “The plane was located some days after the crash, but there was no sign of the 33 years old pilot. … Bindermann was numbered among those who over the years had become victims of the wilds of Labrador.”

 I took Parsons’ reference a little farther via the newspapers of the day. I wanted to learn more. The short answer is, I learned very little.

The first report I found was in The Evening Telegram of Tuesday, Aug. 17, 1965:


Lost plane is sought in Labrador

Five aircraft yesterday were searching a 5,600 square mile area of Labrador for a twin-engine civilian plane missing since August 14 on a flight from Greenland to Goose Bay. The RCAF rescue Centre in Halifax identified the pilot as J.T. Bindermann of Montreal. He was the only person aboard the Gemini 1-A. Three aircraft covered the search area Sunday without finding a trace of the plane. Weather over the region today was reported good. In his last report, Saturday, to Cartwright, the pilot gave his position as over Sandwich Bay, 160 miles east of Goose Bay and said he was changing his course for Goose Bay. He had one hour, ten minutes fuel remaining.


Just over a week later, there was another report in The Evening?Telegram:


Wednesday, August 25, 1965

— Lost flyer still sought

A ground and air search Tuesday failed to turn up any trace of Montreal pilot J.T. Bindermann missing for 11 days in Labrador about 60 miles from Goose Bay. The air/sea rescue centre in Halifax said a 36-man search party aided by an RCMP tracking dog reported nothing new nor did two aircraft criss-crossing the area (southeast of Goose Bay) where Bindermann’s twin-engine Gemini 1-A was found Thursday. The plane was in good condition. Footprints, a cigarette butt and missing survival equipment led searchers to believe the pilot was uninjured. He had been on a flight to Blanc Sablon, Quebec, from Greenland August 14 and diverted to Goose Bay because of a fuel shortage.


A month after the flyer ditched his plane, there was a fairly extensive report published (also in The Evening Telegram). The vast area covered puzzled me. The report states that 37,000 square miles were covered. I’m guessing this is not always “new” territory — in other words, the planes would have gone over and over, around and around the general area where the Gemini was found.


Area scoured for lost flyer

Personnel from U.S. and Canadian air forces and of the Canadian Army spared no effort in a vigorous search for J.T. Bindermann, 33, missing in Labrador since his light plane crashed August 14 about 60 miles from Goose Bay. The USAF personnel covered about 37,000 square milers of territory in a 300 flying-hour air search while RCAF members stationed at Goose Bay and Army men from Camp Gagetown, New Brunswick, spent two weeks scouring through swampland and bush.


Does this seem like an inordinate amount of attention for one missing person?  

The report continues:


Bindermann’s up-ended Gemini was found five days after he reported he was crash-landing because of fuel shortage, but, except for cigarette butts and footprints at the scene, no more was found of Bindermann who was flying home from a combination business and holiday trip to Britain.

Hopes were raised briefly Saturday when a searching aircraft spotted distress messages stamped out in sand on a riverbank about 23 miles from where Bindermann’s plane was found. But it turned out that the messages had been tramped out by two impatient U.S. anglers. A chartered plane had failed to pick them up as scheduled Friday night.

Planes and ground parties searched sixteen says for Bindermann when officials gave up hope. It was resumed September 3rd. when Mrs. Bindermann appealed to Associate Defence Minister Cadieux. Mrs. Bindermann arrived in Goose Bay last Friday determined to stay until her husband was found but she flew home the next day. Flt. Lieut. Robert Levis RCAF Search Master at Goose Bay said, “like any wife she still hopes her husband is alive, but after all the people here talked to her, I think she accepted that the search would end.”


 Bindermann’s whereabouts that autumn 49 years ago were not the only concerns of search personnel in this province.

The following add-on paragraph ended the report:

“One of the search planes, a Dakota from the RCAF rescue unit at Greenwood, Nova Scotia, was pulled off a routine followup to a plane missing over western Newfoundland since last November. The Cessna 180, owned by Newfoundland Transport Ltd., disappeared November 11th. on a 60-mile flight from South Brook to the headwaters of Crabbe’s River. It carried four persons on a surveying trip for prospective fishing and hunting lodges.”

I do not know whether anything more was ever heard or found of Bindermann. Nor have I learned what became of the plane — whether it was brought out or left there to deteriorate. Logically, there is more to the story.