The Czech Crash

The Beacon (Gander) - - News - Frank Tibbo

In Septem­ber, 1967, Gan­der ex­pe­ri­enced its sec­ond worst crash.

The $2-mil­lion air­craft was a Rus­sian built Iy­lushin IL-18D, (turbo pro­pel­lers) with reg­is­tra­tion OK-WAL, op­er­ated by Cze­choslo­vakia State Air­lines.

In the af­ter­noon of Sept. 4, 1967 it de­parted Prague, Cze­choslo­vakia, for Ha­vana with sched­uled stops at Shan­non, Ire­land, and Gan­der. It de­parted Shan­non that evening for Gan­der, and landed on run­way 14 (now run­way 13) at 0326 GMT (Green­wich Mean Time). Jack Pin­sent was the tower con­troller, and yours truly was the ar­rival con­troller. The air­craft was re­fu­eled by two CSA me­chan­ics and a lo­cal ser­vice com­pany un­der su­per­vi­sion of the flight en­gi­neer of the out going flight. The flight crew that flew the air­craft to Gan­der re­mained at Gan­der and was re­placed by a crew that had been off duty in Gan­der.

The air­craft de­parted run­way 14 at 0510 (02:40 AM lo­cal time). The pi­lot called the con­trol tower and re­ported that the air­craft was air­borne. Mr. Pin­sent in­structed the air­craft to contact de­par­ture con­trol on 119.7 in the Area Con­trol Cen­tre.

While the air­craft’s ra­dio op­er­a­tor was chang­ing fre­quency, the air­craft’s right wing struck the guy wire of a radar re­flec­tor mast that was lo­cated 4,000 feet from the end of the run­way. (It broke the guy wire and dragged it 670 feet be­yond the mast). One hundred feet later, num­bers 2, 3 and 4 pro­pel­lers started to nick the ground shrubs, and 20 feet later the belly of the air­craft made contact with the ground.

Shortly af­ter, it hit the rail­way track em­bank­ment and rails, skipped 400 feet over a de­pres­sion in the ground, and crashed into boggy ground break­ing the wings into sev­eral sec­tions and the fuse­lage into seven ma­jor parts. The air­craft caught fire im­me­di­ately, and con­tin­ued to burn for ap­prox­i­mately six hours.

The air­craft was built in April of that year and had ac­cu­mu­lated only 766 hours. It was in ex­cel­lent me­chan­i­cal con­di­tion and op­er­ated by an ex­pe­ri­enced and well-rested crew. There was no ev­i­dence of any pre-im­pact ex­plo­sion or fire. The anal­y­sis of fuel in­di­cated that it con­formed to the re­quired spec­i­fi­ca­tions. The air­craft was just slightly over­weight, but the ex­tra 119 kilo­grams would have no sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on the per­for­mance of the air­craft. The weather con­di­tions were good.

The of­fi­cial ac­ci­dent re­ported stated that the prob­a­ble cause was “un­der­t­er­mined”.

Ev­ery pi­lot who de­parted run­way 14 at night knows, re­gard­less of weather, that if the moon was west or ob­scured by clouds, it is nec­es­sary to im­me­di­ately “go on in­stru­ments” be­cause of the lack of any vis­ual hor­i­zon­tal ref­er­ence.

There were no lights to the east of the field in 1967, so it is pos­si­ble that the pi­lot at the con­trols, be­cause of the good weather con­di­tions, was duped into not pay­ing enough at­ten­tion to his ar­ti­fi­cial hori­zon in­di­ca­tor. Un­til some­one comes up with a bet­ter ex­pla­na­tion, that is my hy­poth­e­sis. What I do know for cer­tain is that the air­craft ac­tu­ally made a shal­low des­cent and flew into the ground. Of the 69 pas­sen­gers and crew, 32 died im­me­di­ately, and three died later. Thirty-four sur­vived. It was a busy night for the hospi­tal staff, who sud­denly had an ex­tra 37 pa­tients. All of those in­volved worked long and hard hours getting the sur­vivor out of the wreck­age and aboard the he­li­copter that trans­ported the in­jured to the hospi­tal.

The Gan­der Town Coun­cil named a street af­ter he­li­copter pi­lot Austin Gar­rett as a re­sult of his ac­tions that Septem­ber morn­ing in 1967. Mr. Gar­rett’s tire­less ef­forts op­er­at­ing in poor fly­ing con­di­tions (caused by dark­ness and the smoke from the burn­ing 6,100 gal­lons of fuel) was con­sid­ered among the rea­sons that some sur­vived.

Among other rea­sons that some sur­vived was the med­i­cal treat­ment given to the sur­vivors at the scene of the crash and later in the hospi­tal. Med­i­cal staff from the James Pa­ton Memo­rial Hospi­tal were on the scene within a very short time and worked on pa­tients while strug­gling through knee-deep bog.

Some of the sur­vivors were trans­ported to the burn units at Hal­i­fax and Mon­treal.

An in­ter­est­ing note about the ac­ci­dent con­cerns the late Ariel King, who was a mem­ber of the crash crew at the airport. It seems that they were try­ing to ac­count for the 69 that had been on the air­craft and the count kept show­ing 68. Mr. King found the 69th about six hours af­ter the crash. It was a woman who had been in the rear of the air­craft and had been pro­tected from the fire and struc­tural dam­age by ma­te­rial that had fallen and which had ren­dered her un­con­scious.

The late Mr. King was search­ing in the de­bris with his arm reach­ing in among the wreck­age when he felt a hand take hold of his arm. The woman was not se­ri­ously in­jured, and was re­leased from hospi­tal as soon as the med­i­cal staff had com­pleted an ex­am­i­na­tion.

At the end of our shift at 8 AM, I in­vited Jack to come along with me as a cam­era­man and rented a Chero­kee 140 from the Gan­der Fly­ing Club. As a re­sult of that brief flight I have the only video footage of the wreck­age. Smoke was still com­ing from the air­craft, and that last lady pas­sen­ger was still en­tan­gled in the de­bris.

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