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Remembering the Sabena Airlines crash


Jack Pinsent was just three years old when Belgium’s Sabena Airlines DC4 OO-CBG went down approximately 22 miles southwest of Gander on Sept. 18, 1946, claiming 26 lives.

The rescue that would take place following the crash was a precedent setting effort, saving the lives of 18 people.

Growing up around the airport it was a story he was always familiar with, but didn’t fully understand the logistics of what had happened until his mid-teens.

And being able to fully comprehend the crash and rescue effort, Pinsent, president of the Gander Airport Historical Society, always felt that this story wasn’t one that should fade into the past.

“It was an unprecedented rescue. If the people involved didn’t do what they had done back then they all would have perished, and I don’t think it’s something that should be forgotten,” said Pinsent.

While the Sabena crash is multi-layered and an extremely complex story, a synopsis version provided by society states the location of the crash site was in the dense forest without any access by a motor vehicle. A US Army rescue team led by a US Army doctor and a guide, travelled on foot, to find the downed airplane.

On arrival of the rescue team, they radioed to the airport there were survivors who were in immediate need of medical treatment in a hospital.

Dr. Sam Martin, the Army doctor, administered temporary medical aid to keep the survivors alive. Because of the impossible situation that faced the rescue team, assistance was requested from the US Coast Guard (USCG) for a solution.

The helicopter had only been invented for three years and the USCG had purchased two of them for test purposes. Because of the urgency of the situation the two helicopters were dismantled, loaded aboard a military airplane and flown to Gander from the US, which was overseen by Commander Stewart Graham.

At Gander the helicopters were reassembled, and the air rescue commenced. The helicopters were used to taxi the injured to awaiting amphibious planes in a lake seven miles away.

The end result was the 18 survivors were safely brought to the hospital in Gander — the first time a helicopter was used to rescue civilians, according to the information from the Historical Society. After this successful mission was accomplished the USCG acknowledged the helicopter now had a purpose in their organization as a rescue vehicle.

Remembrance

On the day of the crash, 70 years later, delegations from Belgium, the United States, Canada and Newfoundland gathered at 103 Search and Rescue Squadron base to pay their respects to those who lost their lives and honour the heroics of those involved.

Belgian ambassador Raoul Delcorde had nothing but praise for both Americans and Canadians in their endeavor to carry out the rescue.

“The appreciation that was expressed a few days after the crash by the Belgium government and the Belgium nation is being reiterated here today,” said Delcorde.

With Canada and the United States having fought the Axis powers in Belgium during the Second World War, only two years prior the crash, he said the actions taken once again solidified the three countries relationship.

“Here again we were able to count on the support, the solidarity and the assistance from our Canadian and American friends,” Delcorde said. “The moment will forever be remembered with a strong feeling of appreciation for the support that Sabena and the Belgium’s got from the brave and courageous people involved.”

Street dedication

To note the extraordinary efforts of Dr. Samuel Martin and U.S Coast Guard Commander Stewart Graham, a street dedication bearing their names was held.

Vice Admiral Charles W. Ray, Deputy Commandant Operations United States Coast Guard received the honours, on behalf the men’s families.

At a time when you’re almost scared to turn on the television because you don’t know what tragedy has happened in the world, it is heartening and refreshing to think back and remember events that demonstrate the capacity of humankind to help each other,” said Ray. “Characteristics I think we should all rejoice in, and this group and this rescue epitomized things that we should all hold near and dear to our hearts.”

To the Vice Admiral, their actions symbolized courage, innovation and compassion.

“If you read the story (you realize) how little time it took to mobilize,” he said. “There were multiple countries involved, multiple armed forces involved, and a lot of bureaucracy involved generally speaking.

“But in this case there was none of that, it was immediately. Within a day of the crash there were helicopters moving this way.

“And what these folks did from your community, and what the people of from both our armed services did for these people, it’s really not that much different than what Gander done 15 years ago.

“It’s compassion at its very best.”

Site visit

According to researcher Frank Tibbo, while the survivors were brought to Gander, the conditions didn’t allow for the 26 who lost their lives in the crash to be transported back to Gander.

“Graves were dug on site,” he said. “The 10 bodies that could be identified were buried in separate graves, the remainder in one mass. A memorial service was held aboard an aircraft flying over the site on Sept. 25.”

Following the street designation, a select few boarded two 103 Cormorants for an aerial view of the cemetery, followed by a brief inflight ceremony and Search and Rescue technician being lowered to the site to lay a wreath at what has since become known as St. Martin’s in the Woods upon the request of the survivors.

The rescue that would take place following the crash was a precedent setting effort, saving the lives of 18 people.

Growing up around the airport it was a story he was always familiar with, but didn’t fully understand the logistics of what had happened until his mid-teens.

And being able to fully comprehend the crash and rescue effort, Pinsent, president of the Gander Airport Historical Society, always felt that this story wasn’t one that should fade into the past.

“It was an unprecedented rescue. If the people involved didn’t do what they had done back then they all would have perished, and I don’t think it’s something that should be forgotten,” said Pinsent.

While the Sabena crash is multi-layered and an extremely complex story, a synopsis version provided by society states the location of the crash site was in the dense forest without any access by a motor vehicle. A US Army rescue team led by a US Army doctor and a guide, travelled on foot, to find the downed airplane.

On arrival of the rescue team, they radioed to the airport there were survivors who were in immediate need of medical treatment in a hospital.

Dr. Sam Martin, the Army doctor, administered temporary medical aid to keep the survivors alive. Because of the impossible situation that faced the rescue team, assistance was requested from the US Coast Guard (USCG) for a solution.

The helicopter had only been invented for three years and the USCG had purchased two of them for test purposes. Because of the urgency of the situation the two helicopters were dismantled, loaded aboard a military airplane and flown to Gander from the US, which was overseen by Commander Stewart Graham.

At Gander the helicopters were reassembled, and the air rescue commenced. The helicopters were used to taxi the injured to awaiting amphibious planes in a lake seven miles away.

The end result was the 18 survivors were safely brought to the hospital in Gander — the first time a helicopter was used to rescue civilians, according to the information from the Historical Society. After this successful mission was accomplished the USCG acknowledged the helicopter now had a purpose in their organization as a rescue vehicle.

Remembrance

On the day of the crash, 70 years later, delegations from Belgium, the United States, Canada and Newfoundland gathered at 103 Search and Rescue Squadron base to pay their respects to those who lost their lives and honour the heroics of those involved.

Belgian ambassador Raoul Delcorde had nothing but praise for both Americans and Canadians in their endeavor to carry out the rescue.

“The appreciation that was expressed a few days after the crash by the Belgium government and the Belgium nation is being reiterated here today,” said Delcorde.

With Canada and the United States having fought the Axis powers in Belgium during the Second World War, only two years prior the crash, he said the actions taken once again solidified the three countries relationship.

“Here again we were able to count on the support, the solidarity and the assistance from our Canadian and American friends,” Delcorde said. “The moment will forever be remembered with a strong feeling of appreciation for the support that Sabena and the Belgium’s got from the brave and courageous people involved.”

Street dedication

To note the extraordinary efforts of Dr. Samuel Martin and U.S Coast Guard Commander Stewart Graham, a street dedication bearing their names was held.

Vice Admiral Charles W. Ray, Deputy Commandant Operations United States Coast Guard received the honours, on behalf the men’s families.

At a time when you’re almost scared to turn on the television because you don’t know what tragedy has happened in the world, it is heartening and refreshing to think back and remember events that demonstrate the capacity of humankind to help each other,” said Ray. “Characteristics I think we should all rejoice in, and this group and this rescue epitomized things that we should all hold near and dear to our hearts.”

To the Vice Admiral, their actions symbolized courage, innovation and compassion.

“If you read the story (you realize) how little time it took to mobilize,” he said. “There were multiple countries involved, multiple armed forces involved, and a lot of bureaucracy involved generally speaking.

“But in this case there was none of that, it was immediately. Within a day of the crash there were helicopters moving this way.

“And what these folks did from your community, and what the people of from both our armed services did for these people, it’s really not that much different than what Gander done 15 years ago.

“It’s compassion at its very best.”

Site visit

According to researcher Frank Tibbo, while the survivors were brought to Gander, the conditions didn’t allow for the 26 who lost their lives in the crash to be transported back to Gander.

“Graves were dug on site,” he said. “The 10 bodies that could be identified were buried in separate graves, the remainder in one mass. A memorial service was held aboard an aircraft flying over the site on Sept. 25.”

Following the street designation, a select few boarded two 103 Cormorants for an aerial view of the cemetery, followed by a brief inflight ceremony and Search and Rescue technician being lowered to the site to lay a wreath at what has since become known as St. Martin’s in the Woods upon the request of the survivors.

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