Mr. David Munro, June 2012.The Memory Project
"And we were standing beside the aircraft and all of a sudden it blew up. Just a horrendous blow. The trees were fairly high and I remember looking down at the trees, it blew us so high. And we landed and just flaming like a torch."
[Serving with No. 162 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force]
So we picked up the aircraft to go back to Iceland. And the pilot checked it out and he said, “Seems okay.” But we headed towards Goose Bay [Labrador] – our trip was to Goose Bay to […] and Greenland and then on into Iceland. As we were going over the Anticosti Island [Quebec] we ran into some problems with the engines, so we landed in Mingan [Quebec] and checked. The engineers checked it and said, “Looks okay.” So we took off out of there and got about 100 miles south of Goose Bay and we run into some really bad weather, heavy icing and all the rest of it. The pilot shoved the throttles forward to climb over the cloud and both engines quit. So we came down like a rock, broke out just over the trees and he landed in the trees. It happened so fast and I went down so fast, I didn’t have – I gave a message to the radio operator but he didn’t get the message out. So nobody knew where we were.
And we landed – of course, cut down trees and everything else, but the aircraft, all the fuel came pouring down into the main part of the cabin, but nobody was physically hurt. Shaken up, but not injured. So always danger, always in line of crashing and burning fires, we evacuated the aircraft. And we only had light flying suits on, light battle dress on. And after a while it got cold and we were soaked. We were soaked with the gasoline. So we decided to go back in the aircraft and I and another fellow went in first and we gathered flying suits and all the rest of it, took them out. And you couldn’t stay in too long because of the fumes, gas fumes. So the two of us came out and two other guys went in and the captain went in and one of the engineers went in.
And we were standing beside the aircraft and all of a sudden it blew up. Just a horrendous blow. The trees were fairly high and I remember looking down at the trees, it blew us so high. And we landed and just flaming like a torch. So there was lots of snow, just lots of snow, so we rolled in the snow and got all the thing out, got everything out of them. And the other guy that was beside me, he was right beside me, we came down and the rest of the crew were not too far away.
Then we worried about the two guys that were in the aircraft and just at that time the guy – the engineer yelled, “I can’t get out! I can’t get out!” So we went back to the aircraft and got him. It took of us because every once in a while we’d burst into flames again. So we had to pack snow on us to get the flames out. And we got him and we pulled him out of the aircraft and then rolled him in the snow and he was badly burned, very badly burned. We got him away from the aircraft and got everybody back and the pilot then came walking around the side. He had been near the front of the aircraft when it blew up and it blew him right out the side. And he was also badly burned. So we got the two of them. And we built a fire and the fire of course, the snow was about ten feet deep. And the fire just slowly burnt its way down. And it had gone down quite a ways before we got these guys out, so what we did, we went in beside the fire and dug a hole in the snow and put them in there so they wouldn’t be as cold.
And there we were. Nobody knew where we were and it was snowing. The clouds were just over the treetops and nobody is going to see us. We didn’t have any food. Everybody was quite shaken up. So we were there – after about three days the guys that were burned were getting so bad and getting – well almost – I don’t know what you’d call it, they were in bad, bad shape. We knew they weren’t going to last very long. So I said, “Well we got to do something. I don’t know what we’re going to do but we got to do something.” And I being a navigator knew the direction to Goose Bay. And looking towards Goose Bay, there was a high hill, a fairly high hill, bald on the top. So at the third day I said to the two radio operators as a matter of fact who had been experienced as youth in the bush, “Okay, we’re going to go up in the top of that hill so somebody can see us if there’s anybody that goes by.”
So we climbed the hill. It took us three or four hours because it was fairly steep and we weren’t too lively. So we got up in the top of the hill and started a little fire, melted some more snow because we wanted something to drink, to melt to have something to drink and we stamped out SOS on the side of the hill. And we’re sitting down there resting and I looked up and I looked to the south where clouds were starting to break and I saw a speck in the distance. It looked to me like an aircraft. And I always carried the mirror in my pocket. So I got the mirror out and the sun started to shine through and I got to focusing the sun on the cockpit as the guy came closer and as it came closer I got it really working. Attracted his attention, the pilot’s attention and they came back and they looked at the crash site of course and they looked where we were. And then they waggled their wings and away they went to Goose Bay and they told Goose Bay what was happening. And then they’re going to do something about it.
So the next things that happened is they sent two aircraft. As I said we had gone a little distance from where the rest of them were. And they sent one aircraft to the crash site to pick up the people there. And they put another one in an area close to where we were – small lake. The crews told me later that they carried the engine guys out to the aircraft and it was a Norseman [the Noorduyn Norseman, a Canadian single-engine bush plane]. It wasn’t very big and couldn’t take any more than the two of them, so they put the two in and away they went and they got to Goose Bay.
The other aircraft, we were up on the hill and the crew came walking up towards us and we went down to that aircraft and they had flown in, just stopped engines and then went to meet us. So we circled around. It was still daylight and got into the wind, started a takeoff but we didn’t make it. We hit the trees at the end of the lake. And we got out of that aircraft pretty fast. The aircraft wasn’t completely destroyed but there was a lot of damage to the wings and the prop and one thing and another. Fortunately we could run the engine and we called up Goose Bay and told them what happened. And they made the decision they would not send in another aircraft for us, that it was too dangerous. But they came, they flew in some food for us and so we had food. And then they said, “It’s going to be a while.”
I’ll tell you what happened later but we decided – there was two engineers that come over from the other crew, so they were engineers and we decided to see what we could do with the aircraft. So we turned it around and they asked Goose Bay to drop some supplies that they needed and they patched all the wings up and we built a ramp going back off towards the lake by laying trees sideways and covering them with snow. And they – once we got the thing done, they ran the engine and it ran very rough because the propeller was twisted, but they took off and away they went.
Meanwhile Goose Bay, when they got their engines going again, Goose Bay said that they were looking into how they’re going to get us out. Now I learned later that there’s a USAF [United States Air Force] Unit at Goose Bay and the General on their staff knew that they were testing helicopters and they were almost finishing their test. And so he called up somebody at their headquarters and they said, “Yes, we’ll fly the helicopter in and use it for rescue.” So that took a few days. Now the helicopter was very small. It carried a pilot and one person. So we got the other members of the crew that were at the crash site and brought everybody together. And then they ferried us, they flew us about 30 or 40 miles to a strip that was being used in the wintertime and it was still winter. And so they flew us out to there and they flew us into Goose Bay. And we arrived in Goose Bay on May 6th, V-E Day [two days before Victory in Europe Day]. So we’d been in the bush since the 19th of April until the 6th of May .