What happened to...
the C-47 wreckage at Fort Ross, Nunavut, Canada

 

Rescue from Ft.Ross

John Lee Cormie wrote me in Nov.2007 about the following:
"I was in the arctic in 1977 and just south of Fort Ross at the south end of Somerset island I saw the remains of a C-47 or DC3. The story (most of it is published in the March 1944 issue of The Beaver magazine (which is the history magazine of the Hudson's Bay Company which established Fort Ross) goes that the Fort had to be abandoned in 1943, due to a failure of the resupply ship to get to the fort.
A fellow named Stanwell Fletcher parachuted in to prepare an ice runway to allow an aircraft to land.
The first attempt ended in failure and is the source of the remains of the DC3 including the wing centre section and the wings. This part of the story is missing from the article...
A second runway was prepared inland and was successful in evacuating the HBC people to Winnipeg.

Would anyone have a confirmable story of the remains of the C-47 / DC-3. near Fort Ross???

Lee

In 1937, the Fort Ross trading post was established by the Hudson's Bay Company at the southeastern end of the island.
Only 11 years later, however, it was closed, as the severe ice conditions rendered it uneconomical and difficult to access. [ Wikipedia (also map)]

 

When I published this story on the AvCanada forum, I received response by someone ('OldTimer') who had looked on Google Earth and offered the following advise (it does seem a long way from Fort Ross) and personally I don't see it, though I do see vehicle tracks..
"DC 3 Wreck at lat=71.9305750655, lon=-94.3780738414
or on Google Earth: 71.55.49.98n 94.22.41.25w
It is faint, but it looks to be a plane pointed out towards the ice..."
Ft. Ross on Google earth

DC-3 remains at Ft.Ross

John Cormie wrote: "Here is the photo of the wing centre section, from the beach south of Ft.Ross. I cannot find a photo of the wings, which are together but on the next small section of the beach."


On the AvCanada forum 'Lastcat' wrote the final chapter on this:
"The story about Hudsons Bay Company's Fort Ross being abandoned in 1943 due to a failure of the resupply ship arriving, in 1942 and 1943 is correct. The part about about Stanwell Fletcher parachuting in to prepare an ice runway to allow an aircraft to land is also correct, in fact Fletcher Lake up there is named after him. However the aircraft, apparently an American Airforce DC-3, did successfully land and evacuate Fletcher and the HBC people.

The next summer the supply ship did make it in and Fort Ross was reopened. In 1948 Fort Ross again did not get a resupply and the HBC decided to abandon the Post for good and establish a new one in Spence Bay.

During the winter of 48/49 word got out that some of the Inuit people near Fort Ross took sick and a DC-3 sent up with supplies and to evacuate the sick. Ernie Lyall, who was living there, marked out a 3500' x 150' strip on the sea ice and the aircraft safely landed. Later in Feb of 1949 two additional DC-3's were sent up together with additonal supplies; the first one dragged a wing on landing and crashed; there were 9 people aboard and a few had only minor injuries. The second Dak safely landed on the strip 15 minutes later and evacuated the first crew. The first aircraft was abandoned, dragged up on shore and used by the Inuit people as a storage shed.

This is your aircraft; I have no information whose aircraft it was or who the pilots were. It may have been the RCAF or could have been a Canadian Pacific aircraft as I believe they were flying into YZF and YCB in those days."

But of course there can be no such thing as a 'final chapter' until we have determined the identity of that wreckage...

I took this subject to the Air-Britain forum AB-IX (members only) and Matt Miller picked up the challenge; he wrote-
On the "DC-3 wreckage near Fort Ross" here is what I found so far. Following reports of illness and death, the RCAF began a reconnaissance of the region near Fort Ross on 4Feb49 using two ski-equipped Dakota's flying out of Cambridge Bay.
The mission was under the authority of Northwest Air Command. On February 9th, the RCAF reported they were able to make contact with Mr Ernest Lyle; note different spelling but obviously the same person you mentioned. It was established that most of the sick people were in the vicinity of Cresswell Bay about 40 miles North of Fort Ross.
Lyle stated that it wouldn't be possible to land there but he would attempt to lay out a strip near his camp at the Southern tip of Somerset Island. On Feb 14, one of the two Dakota's landed and picked up two of the most seriously ill and flew them initially to Cambridge bay for emergency treatment. The invalids were flown on to Edmonton the next day. The RCAF also reported they would stop efforts for the time being.

On March 29th, Northwest Air Command reported that a Dakota, piloted by Flt. Lt Tommy Benson of Vancouver, had damaged its undercarriage while landing at the temporary strip the previous day, that is March 28th. It was further reported the plane would be abandoned. The second plane piloted by Flt Lt Stewart Skinner brought back the crew of the abandoned airplane and Dr. J. F. Harvey who had been attending to the remaining sick patients since February. Note I can't say if this was the same emergency strip that was used in February but I assume it is.

I looked through the (Air-Britain) DC-3 book but, unless I missed it, I couldn't find an obvious candidate. I found four possibilities.

  • 982 cn 26642 assigned 435 Sq Edmonton 2Jun48, SOC 5May49
  • FZ678 cn 12273 assigned Northwest Air Command, Fort Nelson 26May48, SOC 23Jun49
  • KG635 cn 13395 assigned 9 Transport Group 10Mar47 SOC 6Jul49 See below
  • KJ936 cn 26109 assigned 435 Sq 1Apr48, SOC 2Mar50
  • Certainly FZ678 looks promising but there are two others in the same general region (982 and KJ936). I don't know where the 9 Transport Group were located in 1949.

    Comments came in at a rapid rate:
    Alexandre Avrane: "Ref KG635 c/n 13395 the (1984 edition) DC-3 book said it went to Pacific Northern as N41341; the (2006 edition) book does not state this fate. Comments ?"
    Ian Macdonald: "KG635 crashed at Yellowknife NT 18MAY49 while with 413 Squadron. The fuselage became the club house at the Yellowknife golf course. Gone now."

    The discussion continued on the Canadian Military Aviation [CanMilAv] forum and since I am not a member, Jerrold Vernon kindly relayed some of the contributions:

    Ian MacDonald wrote:
    "I thought it would just be a simple matter of going to the RCC "North of 60" List and finding it there, but there are only two DC-3s or Dakotas shown that far North, and they are nowhere near this in location or time frame....
    CAF 12930 02 Nov 71 at 6915'/12324' SAR Gitzel
    CF-DME 14 May 58 at 7238'/8404' Crashed & burned
    So much for that idea.
    On CAF 12930(KG580), Jeff's little blue book shows 03 Nov 71, but the SAR list says 02 Nov. Which??
    Jeff's book doesn't show that any of those four s/ns you mention had crashed, only that they were SOS in 1949. Was that selection strictly based on the SOS (Struck of Charge) date being in 1949?
    No. 9 Transport Group was an earlier name for Air Transport Command. 9 Transport Group existed from 05 Feb 45 to 01 Apr 48, and was headquartered at Rockcliffe. On 01 Apr 48, they were elevated to Command status and renamed Air Transport Command. As the HQ for RCAF air transport operations, numerous squadrons and other units reported to 9 Transport Group, so that won't be of too much help...
    Based on the narrative above, it appears that the operation took place using North West Air Command aircraft, not 9(T) Group aircraft from Eastern Canada.
    The 413 Squadron History Book has lots of good detail about their Dakota and Canso operations in the far North in this time frame, but nothing like this is mentioned."

    Jerry Vernon added to this:
    Here is more info on what Ian Macdonald found on the Fort Ross crash.
    There is no mention of any crash on the RCAF Record Card. It simply says "Strike-off" on 23 Jun 49.
    The last Unit entry was at North West Air Command (Fort Nelson).
    I have asked Ian what the date of the crash was. A possible clue to the date is an entry on the back of the card that says: "31 Mar 49 - afage TSN - 1999:35; TSO - 570:40"

    And:
    Ian says the crash date was 28Mar49.
    Obviously that "afage" note must have some significance and was written on the card a couple of days after the crash. Often the RCAF would write the TSN and TSO hours in the REMARKS on the face of a card when an aircraft was sold, scrapped or otherwise disposed of.
    There is a proper section on the back of the card for filling in brief accident information, but this was not used.

    Ian provided the names of the crew:
    "The crew were-
    27162 F/L T. Benson (P)
    13322 F/O J.C. Sketchley (P)
    20477 F/O D.W. Lyall (WO)
    22113 F/O A.W. Batchelor DFC (NAV)
    23929 Cpl Z.W. Wray (crewman)
    25312 LAC J.C. Skjott (crewman)
    All were NWAC K Flight except Lyall who was borrowed from WEE.
    (Batchelor would be killed in an RAF Wellington crash; RP383 of 1ANS hit high ground in France on a nav' exercise to Malta, 8th February 1952)."

    Dirk Septer provided additonal details on the 1948 / 1949 events..

    "Late 1948, a severe epidemic had broken out amongst the Eskimo/Inuit population of the Canadian Arctic. Many people died either as a direct result of tye epidemic or because the weakened and basically starved to death. Many had already eaten their dogs and could not even go hunting anymore. News travelled very slow; it often took several months before the situation became clear.
    Early 1949, most of the Native population at Creswell Bay near Fort Ross was dead. Finally, on February 9, 1949, the Canadian government sent a DC-3 to Fort Ross; they airdropped food and a walkie talkie. With the latter they made contact and instructed to prepare an ice landing strip 3500 ft long 150 ft wide. The bodies of some of the dead and frozen stiff dogs were used as markers for the strip.
    The next day, a DC-3 landed with more supplies.
    Later that same month, the government decided to send in two additional DC-3s with more supplies. They came in one behind the other, about 10-15 minutes apart. The first one landed without any indication of any trouble, but then suddenly as it started to drop,it slanted to one side and dragged a wing along the ice. It came to a stop with black smoke pouring out.
    Of the nine men on board, only the naviagator,who had been standing looking out of the window was injured; he got thrown down and broke his wrist.
    The second DC-3 came in okay and later took out the crew of the wrecked aircraft.
    The sea ice they were landing on was 56 inches thick, more than the 48 inches required for a safe landing. It was actually so thick that it hadn't even cracked under the impact of the crash.
    The wrecked DC-3 was left there till the spring when with the use of four dogteams of 25-30 dogs total, is was dragged onto the shore. It was later used as a storage shed...."

     


     

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