The Story of CF18 Hornet 188773 HG03

(slideshow at bottom of page)Hornet Plaque

In the early morning hours of 5 April 1988 storm and hurricane warnings were in effect off the West Coast of Vancouver Island with winds in excess of 70 knots. Stratus ceilings of 500 to 1500 feet and visibilities of 1 to 3 miles in precipitation were forecast. Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) Victoria received a distress call from the fishing vessel Brother which was unaware of its position, disoriented and concerned about the very real possibility of breaking anchor and running aground. RCC attempted to coordinate assistance from the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Tanui ten hours away from the approximate location of the distressed boat. CFB Comox was contacted to investigate the possibility of a Buffalo aircraft being launched to drop a survival kit, however high winds made that impossible. As well, the use of a Labrador or Sea King helicopter was discussed, but then rejected because of the very high winds. A USAF Hercules aircraft was transiting the area and attempts were made to contact it as well. RCC then contacted the Regional Operation Control Center for Canada (West) (ROCC{W}) and enquired whether or not the 441 Squadron Quick Reaction Alert CF18s could be utilized to obtain an accurate position on the vessel. The Deputy for Operations (DO) ROCC(W) authorized the use of the alert aircraft. The ROCC Senior Director (SD) contacted the alert pilots and advised them to contact RCC Victoria for a briefing. RCC duty officer apprised the lead alert pilot of the circumstances including the weather in the area as reported by the vessel, to be strong winds from the south gusting up to 75 knots, and the approximate latitude and longitude of the vessel. He also stated the purpose of the mission was to establish the position of the vessel as accurately as possible.

Lief Ericson, the lead pilot, came from a fishing family and as a fisherman himself had fished in that area before, so he could understand the concern of the vessel’s captain. It was a dangerous mission but he chose to do it. The lead pilot advised RCC that it should be possible to obtain a radar contact on the vessel and give its exact location. Lead briefed the wingman and explained briefly the intent of using the radar to locate the vessel. The start, taxi, and take-off at 0215(L) were normal and the formation climbed to 23,000 feet for transit. proceeded to the search area under control of the ROCC. On check-in with the ROCC (Gladstone) the Lead (Hotel Gulf 03) received and acknowledged the altimeter setting which was 29.92. At the same time, Minimum Safe Altitude (MSA) of 10,000 feet MSL “dry” (over land) and 2,000 feet “wet” (over water) were passed. As the formation approached the search area Lead requested and received clearance to descend to 10,000 feet. Lead directed the Wingman to remain at 23,000 feet to act as radio relay in the event of lost communications between Lead and ROCC in the lower altitude structure.

During the first attempt to locate the vessel, Lead established radio contact with the boat on VHF/FM and according to radar plotting data came within three miles of the vessel position. Repositioning to the northwest using a race track pattern, Lead requested and was cleared descent to 5,000 feet. Two minutes later he requested further descent to 2,000 feet and was cleared by the ROCC controller. During the second attempt Lead continued use of VHF/FM Direction Finding (DF) and passed within one mile of the vessel position. Lead transmitted the latitude and longitude of this position to the Wingman for relay to the RCC. ROCC(W) passed the information to RCC Victoria however it was very quickly determined that the position passed by Lead could not in fact be correct as it would put the vessel too far out to sea. By this time Lead had repositioned to the east, southeast and proceeded to make a third run, still at 2,000 feet. Using DF steer Lead again came within one mile of the vessel position. Approaching the estimated location of the vessel, Lead informed the vessel captain that he would transmit when he calculated being overhead the boat’s location and would also light the aircraft after burners to give the vessel captain sound and light clues. The wingman heard Lead transmit his overhead call however the vessel did not receive the call nor see or hear the aircraft. One minute after Lead’s last transmission overhead the vessel the Wingman attempted to contact HG 03 without success. The wingman advised ROCC(W) of the lost communications situation and suggested that Lead might be missing. HG 03 had impacted a steep 2300’ hill on the Brooks peninsula at an elevation of 2100 feet. The aircraft impacted the hill at high speed with zero bank in near level flight with the engines at cruise setting. The location of the crash was 50° 07’ 8”N 127° 44’ 4”W.

Search and rescue operations began shortly thereafter but poor weather hampered the search. It took the search and rescue aircraft from 442 Squadron several days to find the wreckage and it was Kip Kippel piloting a Labrador that made the discovery. Wayne Hay was the first crash guard member and the fourth person to be winched in to the site. A helicopter pad was constructed and the investigation proceeded from there. The apparent cause of the crash was the inertial navigation system being five to seven miles in error which Lief was aware of. Lief was a hero and paid the ultimate price. The fishing boat was found safe and secure.

The Memorial for CF-18 HG03

The planning for this memorial was very complex with ten different organizations involved, plus family and friends. The initial problem was with Parks BC as the crash site was in a Wilderness Conservation Zone of a class A Provincial Park (Brooks Peninsula). An agreement was reached that we could use the shelter at Columbia Cove to mount the plaque in. This is a very quiet and peaceful area and was suitable for our needs. A trip was scheduled in with a Coast Guard helicopter to mount the plaque and determine if there was a suitable area to land a Cormorant helicopter to bring in the memorial party. The plaque was successfully attached but it was determined that we could not do the ceremony on location so the dedication site was changed to 888 Wing. The family had been located earlier and had assisted in the development of the plaque. Ms. Rose Williams, and other members of the Checleset First Nation preformed the Warrior Dance and offered prayers. The Lt Governor Stephen Point spoke very passionately as did the Honourable Stan Hagen the Ministry of Tourism. The family did a presentation on Lief. Four CF-18s from 409 Squadron flew from Cold Lake direct to Columbia Cove and did two flybys there then flew to Comox to do two flypasts there and then joined the reception at 888 Wing afterwards. The Lt Gov was invited to sit in the CF-18 and he was very pleased. A great event and a fitting tribute for a warrior and hero.


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 Crash Location

50° 9’37.04″N   127°44’12.95″W

 Cairn Location

50° 8’7.90″N    127°42’3.68″W

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