The Story of Canso 9789

PO JA Joseph and his crew were scheduled to fly an operational patrol on the 30 July 1943. The weather was 800’ and 3 miles with a light drizzle, the sea was calm and the weather was forecast to improve. This was within operational limits and as there had been a sub sighting in the area on the 25 July this was considered an urgent patrol. PO Joseph had 1065.55 total flying time of which 84.10 was on Canso As. He had no instrument time on Cansos but had logged 4.40 night time. He had just come off 19 months of flying Stranraers with the same Squadron where he had logged 768.40 hrs of flying time on Stranraers which included 8.20 hours of instrument time. PO Joseph was rated as average on instrument flying ability on Cansos and he was deemed fully qualified on instrument and night flying but had insufficient instrument flying in Canso A’s as pilot in command. His copilot FSgt KL Brown had 536.20 hours, 241.50 were on Stranraer and 52.40 on Canso As which included 2.55 instrument time.

The crew was briefed at 0500 hrs, started engines at 0540 and started the takeoff run at 0552. The aircraft take off weight was 33,426lbs which was near the maximum allowable takeoff weight of 34,500. The aircraft became airborne after an abnormally long run and circled the area while climbing to 700’. As the direct route to the patrol area, Seaforth Channel, was closed by weather, PO Joseph headed south via the west side of Lama Passage. The ceiling lowered so he descended to stay under the cloud. Suddenly the fog closed in and Joseph turned the aircraft to the left attempting to return to base on a reciprocal course. His airspeed was 120 kts but altitude could not be maintained in the 35 degree turn like he used to do in a Stranraer. The aircraft was leveled off after turning through 120 degrees as they were getting close to the water. The aircraft was put into a steep climbing position at full power. They had started climbing in the patchy fog when the pilot saw a wooded ridge. They increased the rate of climb and the speed dropped to 70 kts and was down to 50kts by the time they mushed into the 700’ mark on an 800’ ridge. On impact the a/c caught fire. They had been airborne a total of five minutes. The second pilot kicked out the right window and he and Sgt Kershaw climbed through it. The pilot opened the top hatch and climbed through the windshield and tumbled to the ground. He called the crew and thought he had heard from everyone. He was a long way from the aircraft before he realized the Sgt Cowman was missing. They could not return to the aircraft as the entire area was ablaze and ammunition and depth charges were blowing up. They headed down the hill until they hit a stream and followed it to Alarm Cove on the shore of the Lama Passage which took 1 ½ hours. The survivors saw a Fire Ranger appearing out of the fog about 50’ away. The time was 0650. They borrowed the ranger’s rowboat and three of them set off for Bella Bella. An Indian fishing boat picked them up and dropped Sgt Rawligness off at the Bella Bella Store to phone the station then took the other two to the Station. The remainder of the crew stayed on the beach and the crash boat with the Station MO arrived at 0835 and took the rest of the crew to the hospital and the station. The Station MO and two of the crash crew went to the crash scene. They were augmented by a search crew who found Sgt Cowman’s body. He had been decapitated during the crash.

The pilot PO JA Joseph J23027 was slightly injured

2nd Pilot FSgt KL Brown R122924 slight injury First Navigator WO1 LR Travis R91892 slightly injured

Second Navigator PO JL Jones 27441 had serious burns

1st WAG FO RB Shirra J13152 serious burns

2nd WAG Sgt HAS Rawlinson R140236 uninjured

WM SGT EA Kershsaw R72192 slightly injured

1st FE Sgt JA Cowman R75569 killed

2nd FE LAC WJ Johnston R118425 serious burns.

The cause of the crash was assessed as pilot error because of an inability through the lack of experience on the type of aircraft, the pilot was unable to control the aircraft during the turn and was obliged to straighten out. He then realized the presence of hills ahead and attempted to clear them by climbing but was unable to. It would have been advisable to have landed straight ahead when he encountered the fog or to have climbed to 2,000’ and then proceeded to sea rather than attempting a turn at low altitude in a narrow channel with a heavily laden aircraft.

Dedication of Canso 9789

July 6th 2013 was a beautifully clear, sunny day. Shearwater Resort’s crew boats and others brought in people from the outlying Central Coast villages. A charter aircraft brought forty family members and dignitaries from Vancouver, and a Buffalo from 442 Squadron brought in 888 Wing and 101 Squadron members and their CO Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Sharp, who spoke at the ceremony. In total, nearly 400 people showed up. The dedication of the War Memorial started at 1100 and took two hours. The Warriors pole and the Cenotaph were dedicated first, then a memorial service was held for those who served and those that lost their life serving which included the crews from Canso 9789 and “BC Star”. The RCMP and the Colour Party were warm by the time it was over as were the seventeen Chiefs in ceremonial regalia. 101 Squadron’s piper and bugler added to the solemnity of the occasion, as did the Chiefs welcoming dance and the defenders dance at the Pole dedication. The CO of 442 Squadron spoke of how the military has evolved and how it is still here to help residents of the Central coast. Two of the sons of the First CO of 9 BR Squadron Commander S/L Fred Carpenter spoke about their father’s experiences. A very fitting tribute to those who served at RCAF Stn Bella Bella and the First Nations members who served in Canada’s wars. Then the RCAFA and RCMP members retired for a debrief and some refreshments.

(The full dedication ceremony and a slideshow can be found here.)

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 Crash Location

52° 7’49.45″N   128° 6’28.96″W

 Cairn Location

52° 8’51.04″N   128° 5’22.16″W

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