Taking history to the skies

Adam Randell
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Historical Association views crash sites throughout the province

The Avalon Historical Aircraft Recovery Association was in town last week looking over crash sites in the area.

The group was formed in 2005 as a method of preserving the aviation heritage of the province.

"Basically we are trying to recover some of the aircraft we have here in the province, and we are trying to give the provincial government a registry or database of what is here," said Bob Maher, a member with the group.

The B-24 Liberator was an American heavy bomber, often compared to the B-17 Flying Fortress. The B-24 was a more modern design with a higher top speed, greater range and a higher bomb load. Photo courtesy of the Labrador Military Museum.

The Avalon Historical Aircraft Recovery Association was in town last week looking over crash sites in the area.

The group was formed in 2005 as a method of preserving the aviation heritage of the province.

"Basically we are trying to recover some of the aircraft we have here in the province, and we are trying to give the provincial government a registry or database of what is here," said Bob Maher, a member with the group.

Mr. Maher said they have a list of plane crash sites for the province and are now trying to get into look at some of these sites.

"We have a list of planes that are here but we are just trying to get on the ground to catalog what is left of these plane wrecks, if it's totally demolished or worth salvaging," he said.

Mr. Maher is hoping funding will become available to extract these wrecks and restore them for display.

He said the group was in Goose Bay because of the town's significant aviation history.

"Goose Bay, Gander, and Torbay airport, all of these are Second World War bases and there are a lot of crash sites very close to these airports," he said. "A lot of the time planes would get in trouble during take off or landing, I think Gander alone has 53 crash sites, Goose Bay I think maybe has more."

With the association being relatively new they were just recently granted charitable status. Mr. Maher said they hope to start raising funds to get extractions started.

He said even up to this point they are relying heavily on good will and charity.

"5 Wing is helping get us into one of these sites to have a look at it, and the Woodwards group has been very helpful as well, they loaned us two containers," he said.

Those containers are now holding a large portion of a B-24 bomber that holds a historical significance with the province.

"That B-24 was stationed in Gander and sank two U-boats off the east coast during the Second World War, it crashed 25 miles southwest of Goose Bay heading for Gander in 1944," said Mr. Maher.

Mr. Maher said this is not the first time interest has been shown in this plane.

He said 20 years ago an American took the plane apart and brought it out as far as the wharf to ship it home and rebuild it. The provincial government stopped him because the plane was a Canadian registered aircraft.

"We feel this aircraft has a lot of historical significance with the province so we are trying, along with the Museum of the North Atlantic, to do something with it," said Mr. Maher.

5 Wing has brought the group in to make record of the crash site of the B-24 Bomber.

"We wanted to see what was left there and what needs to be taken out," he said. "What's left in the woods is the wing section, it's 110 feet long but still has the four engines and landing gear attached."

Mr. Maher is hoping some day they will be able to remove the wing section.

"This wing section removal is immense, the weight of it alone won't allow it to be removed in one section," he said. "The B-24's are about 24,000 pounds."

The B-24 will be shipped back to Gander where the association with the help of the Museum of the North Atlantic will try to restore it.

Mr. Maher said this will be an expensive process.

"The B-24 will probably cost about $3 to $4 million dollars to restore to operational use, astatically- non-flyable, it will cost about $2 to $3 hundred thousand," he said.

He said there has been cases where individuals have salvaged these rare planes, restored and sold the planes for up to $4 million dollars.

He said although this could be a profitable industry, it's not the goal of the association.

"We formed this group for historical preservation and presenting our province with the history before it's gone," Mr. Maher said, "They aren't making any more of these things, once their gone their gone."

He said the provincial government has put something in place making it illegal for an aircraft to be cut up and sold as scrap metal.

"It's not a well known fact and the general public is probably not aware that if they find an aircraft in the woods they can't salvage it," he said.

Mr. Maher said there have been cases where this has happened.

"About three years ago there was a Harvard aircraft (training aircraft used in WW2) in Gander that was in good shape," he said. " The airplane as far as I know was cut up and sold for $80, meanwhile a restored Harvard is worth about $1,500,000."

Although Mr. Maher said it's not a big possibility but there could still be ammo left at these crash sites.

"We haven't come across anything of that nature yet, but if there is live ordinance on the sites we have to call DND (Department of National Defense), we don't mess around with that," he said. "Basically we have to let DND know if we have found anything and steer clear of it and go trough the proper channels to get it taken care of."

In total the group is looking to recover four if not five airplanes around the province.

"There is one in Botwood harbour we would really like to find, it's a Sikorsky S-42 that crashed in the harbour and it may still be there," said Mr. Maher. "A group from Hawaii, they go all over the world looking for US servicemen and they've actually had a look in Botwood harbour, they found the initial crash site, they found the fuselage, and the rest of the airplane.

Mr. Maher has read the report about the crash and said it seems to only be torn in two.

Along with the Sikorsky s-42, they are looking at a Ventura in Gander that flew as part of a ferry command and ran out of fuel, the B-24 Bomber in Goose Bay, along with others.

reporter@thelabradorian.ca

Organizations: Avalon Historical Aircraft Recovery Association, Museum of the North Atlantic, Department of National Defense Harvard

Geographic location: Gander, Goose Bay, Torbay Botwood Hawaii US

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Recent comments

  • Anthony
    July 08, 2010 - 09:59

    Hi!

    I am the President of the Ventura Memorial Flight here in Alberta and we are restoring a Lockheed Ventura. We have pictures and info on that Ventura that is down outside of Gander. Could someone from the Avalon Association email us if they need assistance?
    Thanks!!

  • Dean
    July 08, 2010 - 09:59

    I'd like to contact Mr. Maher if possible. I belong to a group on Ontario called CHAA. Canadian Harvard Aircraft Association. I am on the CHAA Dive Recovery Team and will be in NFLD in the St. Johns area the first of August and would welcome a chance to meet and disucss mutual ideas and projects.

    thx, dmc