Jack Turner recalls wartime plane crash in valley
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.