Tragedy at Saglek

Adam Randell
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Seventy-year-old story still fresh in curator’s mind

The twin engines of a B-26 bomber – named Times a Wastin – roared to life and soared into the heavens in an attempt to bring seven Americans home. Departing Greenland, the first leg of the trip was to take the men to Goose Bay, Labrador.

On December 10, 1942, a B-26 bomber crash-landed in Saglek, in Northern Labrador. The seven American crewmembers survived months before starving to death. A diary was kept and it has become a well-known story amongst residents of Labrador. Pictured, retired Sergeant Max Peddle, 5 Wing Goose Bay’s museum curator, stands next to one of the propellers recovered from the plane.

Half way through the more than 1,200 kilometre journey, contact was made with Goose Bay, but minutes later the radio went dead.

Already flying off course because of cloud cover, the crew was left to navigate by compass.

When they hit the coast of Labrador it was decided they were flying too far south, so a new direction was established to take them north.

But the crew had already been flying north of Goose, and ended up moving further into the barren lands of northern Labrador.

When the error was discovered, the plane was almost out of fuel.

Knowing he wasn’t going to reach his destination, the pilot started looking for a place to make a crash landing.

Then the engine started missing and the pilot took her down.

Upon impact the Bombay door was torn open and one of the propeller tips went through the fuselage, but everyone survived the landing.

The last flight of that B-26 came to an end at Saglek Bay, December 10, 1942, some 600 kilometres north of Goose Bay.

After the crash

This story is based on the journal entries of one of those crewmembers involved with the crash.

The following is a recount of their attempt at survival in ‘the land that God gave Cain’ during the winter months.

The day after the crash, the men set about tidying up the ship and gathering rations, which consisted of cans of spam, chicken, peanuts, crackers, cookies, chocolates and other foodstuffs.

They checked their surroundings of barren lands and found a lake along with a small supply of wildlife.

They tried to establish radio contact but it was to no avail and eventually the batteries died.

Star shots had determined they were near the then community of Hebron.

A plan was devised for three of the men to take the emergency boat to try and reach help.

A portion of the Dec. 23 entry read, “We intended to put them off shore, but they appear to be making slow headway to the south. That was the last time we saw them.”

With the crew down to four, it was lonesome for them but life inside the plane went on, injured feet received attention and blankets were thawed out; all the while foodstuffs were running lower.

“We can feel the effects of short rations more every day. We pray almost every minute that the boys in the boat will get through soon and get some help,” a portion of the Dec. 28 entry read.

Moving into the New Year and deeper into the harshness of a Labrador winter, the crew remained positive, keeping the snow clear of the plane and blankets dried.

After four weeks in the plane, the writer seems to think he knows where Hebron is, but scouting it out, he found two mountains in the way and is feeling weaker every day. So the crew decided to wait for the rescue plane.

At the one-month mark, their meal consisted of a slice of pineapple and two spoons full of juice.

On Jan. 14, 1943, the writer placed oil into a gas fire too quickly and burned his face, hair and hands.

An excerpt from Jan 17, reads, “Had our last food, bouillon powder, so unless rescue comes in a few days ------.”

As the days rolled on lack of food took its toll on the crew causing weakness, but spirits remained high.

Feb. 3, 1943, was the last journal entry.

“Slept a solid week in bed. Today Waywrench (one of members) died after being mentally ill for several days. We are pretty weak, but should be able to last several more days at least.”

On April 9, 1943, residents of Hebron discovered the remains of the four-crew members- roughly a three-and-a-half hours walk from the community. The three who tried to find help by boat were never seen again.

According to a website dedicated to the crash, the remains of the four crew members were brought to Fort Chimo – which is now called Kuujjuaq – on April 22, 1942, with a funeral service and interment taking place the next day.

The names of the seven-crew members were: Lt. Grover C. Hodge, pilot, Lt. Paul W. Janson, co-pilot, Lt. Emmanual J. Josephson, navigator, Cpl Frank J. Golm, radio operator, Cpl. James J. Mangins, gunner, Sgt. Russell Waywrench, engineer, and Sgt. Charles F. Nolan, passenger.

Today’s perspective

The story may be an old one, but it’s still very interesting to now retired Sergeant Max Peddle, who serves as 5 Wing Goose Bay’s museum curator.

“It was bad timing from the beginning,” he said. “Likely if it was in the spring or summer they could have walked to Hebron.

“But you go into January and February it’s a whole different story.”

The story has even earned a place at the museum. Incased in glass are excerpts of the diary along with a propeller that was a part of the tragic flight.

The propeller came into the museum’s possession after scientists went to examine the site. Mr. Peddle was asked if he would like to have it for the museum.

“When the propeller came down it was well pitted with rust because it was so close to the salt water,” he said. “But after all those years of rust, the prop still turns.”

Mr. Peddle said the propeller hasn’t been without its complications. He said it’s been in and out of quarantine over the years, because of concern about PCB contamination.

Through all that happened, over the years Mr. Peddle has established his own theory as to why the crew ended up so far from Goose Bay.

He believes the radio contact that was established with Goose Bay, was actually a German U-Boat intercepting the call.

Mr. Peddle said radio silence was a pretty important thing during the war, so if silence was broken it could have easily been intercepted by a Nazi submarine and led off course

“I have no other reason to believe it was any other way,” he said. “I do have the (base’s) operations log (from that time) and it doesn’t mention anything about communicating with any aircraft.”

Mr. Peddle also pointed out a well-known fact that German submarines frequented Labrador waters, so it’s not that far out of the realm of possibility.

As evidence to support his claim, Mr. Peddle cited the Battle of the Atlantic, from 1939 to 1945, in which U-boats and other German navy pitted against the allies during trans-Atlantic runs.

Also supporting the theory is the German weather station that was established in Northern Labrador in 1943.

According to Mr. Peddle it’s the only known German weather station to be set up in North America.

Over the years, Mr. Peddle said the story has become well known to those working out of 5 Wing Goose Bay, and its even generating interest from civilians.

“Every year I get about a dozen inquires, asking if I knew about the flight that got lost over northern Labrador,” he said.

He couldn’t say why a rescue plane never made it to their general location.

“In them days they were so far out of line that nobody bothered to go and look for them,” he said.

Mr. Peddle said there are nearly 200-recorded crash sites in the province, with some never being uncovered.

“We know for a fact that, one night, there were five single engine planes that left Goose Bay heading to Greenland and were never seen again,” he said.

But one thing Mr. Peddle is certain of is that lessons were learned because of incidents such as the Saglek crash.

He said the crew was taught to stay with the plane, but never trained in winter survival.

He pointed out that over the years Goose Bay has become a known location for troops to conduct winter survival exercises.

“Anybody flying in the north better be prepared to survive in the north,” he said.

 

reporter@thelabradorian.ca

 

Editors note:

The idea our reporter to search out the diary and write the story came about after listening to the song, “Diary of one now dead” by Ellis and Wince Coles. The song recreates the events over the course of diary.

Geographic location: Goose Bay, Labrador, Northern Labrador Hebron Saglek Bay Fort Chimo North America Greenland

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Recent comments

  • Cy Stanton
    June 25, 2013 - 19:09

    In the mid-1980's I was the radar subject matter expert as part of a survey crew doing site surveys all along the coast of Labrador and Baffiin Island. The surveys were to determine the best locations to put the radar sites for the North Warning system. We had been briefed about the crash before we departed our home base (Hanscom AFB, MA). While surveying in the Saglek area, we visited the crash site. Wasn't much left of the plane, but it wasn't hard to imagine the difficulty those poor guys had to deal with - especially in the dead of winter! Even after all these years, I often have those crewmen in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Tom Billone
    May 31, 2013 - 22:22

    I was stationed at Saglek from January - September 1969, Radar Operations. Have photographs of the crash site taken when Lt. Michaelson, Vern (last name not remembered) and myself hiked down the hill from Upper Camp to Lower Camp. Have a copy of the diary somewhere since it was one of the first things given to newly arriving Airmen. Site was manned by US Air Force personnel. No Canadian military personnel were stationed there.

  • William T. Hodge
    March 11, 2013 - 11:46

    The pilot, Lt. Hodge, was my brother. Thanks to Mr. Peddle and others who don't forget his efforts.

  • ed wareham
    July 30, 2011 - 13:27

    could you please tell me the name of the song by winse and ellis cole about this accident and where i can download it

    • rank fowl
      August 07, 2011 - 19:40

      Ellis and Wince Coles "Diary of One Now Dead" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVyImkVFNqM