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Local heroes


I think the question was something along the line of who did I consider to be the local aviation heroes who had Gander streets named in their honour. His teacher had given me five minutes notice that her pupil would be calling. My first thought was, who among the 100 or so names on our streets were involved with saving lives?

Aviation -

I think the question was something along the line of who did I consider to be the local aviation heroes who had Gander streets named in their honour. His teacher had given me five minutes notice that her pupil would be calling.

My first thought was, who among the 100 or so names on our streets were involved with saving lives?

The first person that came to my mind was Jim Roe; the second was Austin Garrett; then Joe Gilmore; and Royal Cooper. Before I give my rationale, I should add that the student seemed to be emphasizing local, and the four I named were residents of Gander at one time or other.

In the hero category, there are six who have unquestionable credentials, that being the Victoria Cross, viz. Billy Bishop, William George Barker, Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, Davis Hornell and Norman Jackson. But getting back to the local heroes, here is a brief resume.

Jim Roe was a pilot who flew for Eastern Provincial Airways. On August 29, 1961, in command of an Otter aircraft carrying one crewman and four passengers, he took off from Sonderstrom, Greenland on a flight to Egedesminde and points north. Approximately 10 miles from base at 3,500 feet and still climbing, a fuel leak developed and a few moments later the cockpit of the aircraft caught on fire. In the events that followed, Mr. Roe exhibited great heroism and courage as he completed his cockpit procedures in the face of horrifying difficulties while trying to combat the fire. With complete disregard of danger to himself, he successfully landed and beached the aircraft on a lake and thus saved the lives of his passengers and crew. His injuries were so grievous that he was immediately flown to Toronto for medical treatment, however, he succumbed to his injuries on Sept. 7, 1961.

He was posthumously awarded the Royal Canadian Humane Association medal in recognition of bravery and courage of the highest order; the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air; and a commendation from the Danish government. The names of the five people whose lives he saved are as follows: Knud Rasmusesen, hotel manager at Sondrestrom; Henning Dyrse, station manager, Scandinavian Airlines; Lieut. Daniel B. Catlin of the USAF; S.Sgt. Earl P. Frank of the USAF; and co-pilot/engineer Harris Robinson.

Austin Garrett served as a pilot in the Second World War, and some years after the war flew for Eastern Provincial Airways.

A Czechoslovakian IL-18 crashed while taking off in Gander at 2:40 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1967. The remains of the aircraft were about 2,000 feet from the nearest road, and it was impossible to get rescue vehicles across the bog to the scene. It would have taken many hours to carry all of the injured out across the bog. Rescue officials agreed that a helicopter was essential if the injured passengers were to get medical help on time. The closest RCAF Rescue Unit was in Halifax. Mr. Garrett's job at Eastern Provincial Airways at this time was helicopter pilot. When Mr. Garrett answered the telephone in the wee hours of the morning, it was a request to help evacuate the survivors.

The aircraft was completely demolished and engulfed in flames. Most of the passengers were burned, cut and had broken bones, and others were still strapped in their seats which had been thrown clear. The records at Gander International Airport recall that between 4:09 a.m., when Mr. Garrett first had the helicopter airborne, and 5:50 a.m., he made 18 round-trip flights from the crash site to the Airport Terminal where the injured were transferred to ambulances. By 5:50 a.m., all of the 39 injured passengers and crew had been removed from the scene. It was estimated that several lives were saved due to the helicopter evacuation.

In recognition of what he did that night, Austin Garrett was made an OBE (Officer of the British Empire), and on July 1, 1967, was awarded the Centennial Medal.

Joe Gilmore was stationed at Gander as the chief engineer for Ferry Command. Mr. Gilmore was also a pilot who loved the thrill of getting someone out of trouble, and he did that by flying on medical missions and getting them to the Banting Hospital at the airport. The delightful thing about Mr. Gilmore's story is that flying medical missions wasn't the job he was paid for. Whenever the need was there, Mr. Gilmore was in the air and helped saved the lives of several Newfoundland patients.

On July 1, 1946, the King of England appointed Mr. Gilmore, posthumously, a member of the Civilian Division of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for meritorious service.

Royal Cooper, like Austin Garrett, was a Second World War pilot who returned home to Newfoundland and flew for EPA (Eastern Provincial Airways).

Mr. Cooper was a night fighter pilot with the Newfoundland Squadron flying a de Havilland Mosquito-30. On July 29, 1944, he wasn't scheduled to fly, however, one of his fellow pilots was ill and Mr. Cooper volunteered to take his place. During that mission, he intercepted a flying bomb launched by the Germans and headed for metropolitan London. Mr. Cooper fired his guns and became the first Newfoundlander to destroy a flying bomb. Londoners referred to them as Buzz Bombs. They were loaded with 1,870 pounds of high explosives and killed 6,139 Britons and wounded 17,239. An undetermined number of lives were saved that night in London as a result of Mr. Cooper's action.

All of these stories plus 100 more are contained in The Streets of Gander by yours truly.

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