Jack Turner re­calls wartime plane crash in val­ley

The Drumheller Mail - - REMEMBRANCE DAY 2017 - Pa­trick Ko­lafa

Some mem­o­ries are fleet­ing, last­ing only mo­ments or days, while oth­ers are burned into the mind for decades and are as vivid as if they have only hap­pened days ago.

Af­ter seven decades, Jack Turner can still see a plane crash into the Red Deer River like it was yes­ter­day.

Turner brought The Mail a spec­tac­u­lar story that hap­pened Jan­uary 8, 1944, while he was just a young­ster play­ing hockey on an out­door rink in what was then known as Park­dale. The Mail re­cently took his story, and helped to con­firm the in­ci­dent day. In its ar­chives, it found a story in the Jan­uary 13, 1944, edi­tion of The Mail with the head­line “‘ War’ Comes Close to Home; Two RAF Fly­ers Killed Here Sat­ur­day.”

“I am amazed that no one has ever re­gur­gi­tated that story, again,’ said Turner, “It is as plain as if it hap­pened five min­utes ago.”

Turner was in Drumheller on that Sat­ur­day like many oth­ers dur­ing wartime. As food was ra­tioned at the time, his fam­ily would come into town from the farm in the Churchill School area and his mother would ped­dle cream and eggs door-to-door. While she was busy, Jack, then nine years old, and his cousin Barry would stay at his aunt's home on River­side Drive, about a half a block from the hos­pi­tal, and play hockey on the out­door rink.

He said on that day he heard a plane over­head.

“Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, a lot of planes flew over the Drumheller Val­ley to train over the air pock­ets, I am told,” he said. “The sky was black with them, we heard them all the time.”

On this day, when he heard the plane, he could tell one was very low.

“I knew it, just in­stantly, I didn’t want to dull my skate blades, but I didn’t have time to take them off be­cause I heard it com­ing. I ran around to the front of the house, Barry was tod­dling be­hind me, I looked up to my right, I could see the hos­pi­tal, and that plane was less than 100 feet above it. “It was a yel­low trainer. What they were go­ing to do was come down and buzz the river,” he said.

“They dived right down, on the deck, they were low, like right at the banks of the river. There was an elec­tric ca­ble across the river and all of a sud­den it burst into flames.

It burst into flames on a wing to start with and then pretty soon the whole plane be­came en­gulfed in 15 or 20 sec­onds. It was head­ing up­river and you couldn’t see the plane, all you could see was flames.

Turner said the plane could have veered left and gone into the res­i­den­tial area, but in­stead, it turned to­wards the steep bank, the nose turned straight up and then it crashed down on to the bank on the north side of the river.

He re­calls that ac­cord­ing to talk at the time many be­lieved the flyer would have been elec­tro­cuted, but Jack be­lieves the pi­lot was a hero.

“That pi­lot was still alive and he didn’t want to put it down over in the houses,” he said.

“As far as I know, to this day, my cousin Barry and I were the only ones that saw it from start to fin­ish.”

Ac­cord­ing to The Drumheller Mail re­port:

“Two air­men from No. 37 S.F.T.S., R.A.F Cal­gary, were killed Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon at 3:15 when their Har­vard trainer burst into flames and crashed on the hill­side im­me­di­ately north of Third St. E, Drumheller. The plane struck aerial wires which spanned the Red Deer River north of Fifth St. E.

A num­ber of Drumheller res­i­dents wit­nessed the crash and within a few min­utes hun­dreds of peo­ple were at­tracted to the scene of the ac­ci­dent.

Drumheller Fire Bri­gade an­swered an emer­gency alarm, but there was lit­tle they could do other than to quelch the flames by means of chem­i­cals.”

“I can see it like it hap­pened three min­utes ago, I can’t tell you what hap­pened yes­ter­day, but I can sure tell you about that plane,” he laughs.

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