The Story of Norseman 695
(slideshow at bottom of page)
On February 4th 1944, Norseman 695 departed RCAF Station Coal Harbour with WOII JJ. Eccles (Pilot), Sgt. H.R Barker (WAG) Major JJ. Moore (Paymaster) Sgt. L.A Powell (accounts) , and L/Br. E.G. Scrivenor (Security) aboard. The aircraft and passengers landed a short time later at Port Alice to conduct banking and payroll matters for RCAF Coal Harbour. For some reason the banking was unable to be conducted and the passengers and crew returned to Norseman 695 and prepared to return to base.
Norseman 695 departed Port Alice at approximately 1:50 PM. The winds were out of the southeast and the aircraft took off into the wind in the direction of the head of Neroutsos Inlet. Once airborne the aircraft banked to the left, straightening out on a northwest heading in the direction of Coal Harbour. Now flying with the wind, somewhere over the mill site the aircraft experienced a sudden downdraft, possibly due to the warmer air over the mill area. The aircraft lost lift and entered a stall. In order to regain from the stall the nose of the aircraft was pushed down and power applied but as the Norseman aircraft were under powered a recovery was not possible. The aircraft was heading directly into a rooming house and homes along the main street of the town site. The only place not inhabited was the ball field, just over top of the general store to the right. The aircraft banked right from its flight path, stalled completely, and crashed into the unoccupied ball field near the fuel storage tanks.
Sgt. L.A Powell, Major J.J. Moore, and L/Br. E.G. Scrivenor were killed instantly. WOII J.J. Eccles, severely injured was trapped in the wreckage as fuel leaking from the aircraft wreckage ignited and the aircraft caught fire. Sgt. H.R Barker had been thrown clear of the crash on impact. Injured and dazed, Sgt. Barker regained his thoughts and made numerous desperate attempts to enter the burning wreckage fighting off the flames and finally succeeded in rescuing WOII J.J. Eccles from burning to death. Despite the heroic efforts of Sgt. Barker, WOII J.J. Eccles later died in the Port Alice Hospital as a result of his injuries. Sgt Barker was later recommended for an Air Force Medal but higher Headquarters raised it to a British Empire Medal to recognize “his remarkable courage and daring with total disregard for his personal safety.” Sgt. Barker stated in his interview at the RCAF crash investigation that the aircraft had been flying at an altitude of approximately 600 feet and at speed when the aircraft was hit by a sudden down draft just prior to the crash. This make sense as the hot emissions from the mills boilers, machine room and other mill equipment would be venting in the direction of the aircraft’s flight path. The dense air in the winter months generate lift while warm air is less dense and creates less lift, However the RCAF investigation boards findings were different and placed blame solely on the pilot.
The stories passed down from the Port Alice town folk and as written in Eve Smith’s book of the incident, “Why Port Alice,” was that the aircraft had departed from the Port Alice Mail dock climbed out and had then conducted a low level pass over the pulp mill and a wing wag while over the general store to impress a girl who worked at the store. The aircraft had then inadvertently struck the general store with one of the aircraft’s floats, thus causing the aircraft to cartwheel out of control and crash into the ball field where it caught on fire. The Plane… the Pilot… the Girl… Makes for a Great Hollywood movie script, but a stretch from the official facts.
The Memorial Project
Excerpts were used from Eve Smith’s book and Mike Scott’s web site for the Norseman 695 memorial project and it was selected as our Centennial of Flight 2012 memorial project. The logistics for 695 required the Squadron to take a different approach. In March 2012 we formed a committee comprised of members from the Village of Port Alice Council, Legion Branch 180, Mary Murphy – a local historian, Nuecel Specialty Cellulose, and Port McNeill Enterprise. The site chosen was a picturesque bay adjacent to the road leading to the pulp mill that needed very little prep work. In May the Village Council approved the project. In early August a slab was poured for the obelisk and flag pole base erected, and everything was ready by mid September.
September 26, 2012 was a beautiful day with a good crowd in attendance. The WCMDR of 19 Wing, Col, Michel LaLumiere, was our guest speaker and enjoyed the event. After the ceremony everyone went to the Legion for a reception and a social was held in Port Hardy later that evening. We held a Battle of Britain Parade the next day in Port Hardy.
On the 19th January of 2012 in the bitter cold a team from 101 Squadron replaced the flag cable as it was completely corroded by the acid rain from the mill. A thorough debrief took place at the Port Alice Legion.
50º 24’ 29.14” N 127º 29’ 02.93” W
50° 23’ 10.94” N 127°27’ 12.88”W