World Air Blogs

1945 Tofino RCAF Canso Crash

From the Memoirs of Lance Lake

This story is word by word what Lance recalled of that February day in 1945 on Vancouver Island BC, Canada

North Vancouver Island

Map of Vancouver Island showing crash site and radar installations.

On the morning of February 8, 1945 our crew captained by Flying Officer Ron Scholes was assigned the job of transporting the station’s YMCA director, his WD secretary and the station’s chief administrative warrant officer to do some business at Uclulet a few miles south of Tofino. Our regular navigator was not available and so his place was taken by F.O. Lace Knechtal, the captain of another crew. We were assigned the “standby” Canso No. 11007 fully loaded with depth charges for the trip.

Upon running up and testing the engines before take off we found we had an excessive “mag drop” on the port engine. The ground crew mechanics worked on the engine for about an hour or two and we eventually took off in the early afternoon after retesting the engines. The “mag drop” had improved to just within allowable limits.

The two our flight south to Tofino was uneventful and upon arrival a station wagon complete with driver was put at the disposal of our passengers for the return trip to Uclulet an I went along for the ride.

On our return trip from Uclulet in the late afternoon the driver hit a ridge of gravel and lost control and we wound up off the road in the bush. None of us were hurt but we had to wait about four hours for another vehicle to pick us up and take us on to Tofino, arriving there after 10:00 p.m. We immediately climbed into the aircraft and prepared for take off. The “mag drop” on the port engine was marginally acceptable so we proceeded with the take off. Seconds after lifting off and before we had single engine flying speed or adequate altitude the port engine lost power.

With full throttle on the starboard engine we feathered the port prop and started our attempt to return to the airport and land again. I can vividly remember seeing the airspeed indicator registering about 50 knots and the rate of climb indicator showing about 1000 feet per minute “descent” before we hit the trees. I had failed to fasten my shoulder harness, an omission which saved my life, and when I came to after we come to rest I found myself half standing in wreckage with fames right beside me.

Canso Crash Site

Canso Crash Site Photo: RCAF

I scrambled out of the wreckage and away from the flames through dense bush in the dark for perhaps a minute before pausing to take stock. I could still see the flames intermittently flashing up and then going out and then finally staying out. I had got myself no more than 30 feet from where I had started and was still just ahead of the port wing from which I could see fuel pouring out of the ruptured tanks in the light of the flames.

The fire had been put out by Lace Knechtal who had been in the blister compartment on take off and observing what was happening had sat in one of the jump seats with his back against the forward bulkhead and braced himself for the inevitable crash.

He was virtually unhurt in the impact and seeing the fire he had grabbed a CO2 extinguisher and had climbed out of the blister up over the fuselage and stood repeatedly smothering the flames of the burning starboard engine which had been torn off its mountings and was on the ground, the flames being fed by oil pouring from a ruptured line in the nacelle. This heroic action saved all our lives.

Once the flames were out we started getting the injured out of the aircraft and finding Ron Scholes who had been thrown forward out of the crushed cockpit and was lying unconscious on the ground about 40 feet ahead of the wreck beside the port engine which had also been torn from its mountings. We made camp two or three hundred feet down hill from the wreck in semi cleared area using parachutes to cover the injured. We frequently cranked the “Gibson Girl” distress radio but our signal was apparently not received.

Canso Wing and Engine

70 years later! Canso Wing and Engine, Photo: Neil de Boer

Canso Tail 2014

70 years later! Canso Tail , Photo: Neil de Boer

Although we were very close to the airfield we were reluctant to use our distress flares due to the presence of gasoline fumes. At about 5:00 a.m. we heard the sound of engines being run up at the airfield which we thought would possibly be, and in fact was, a search plane preparing to take off to look for us as we were now several hours overdue at Coal Harbour.

Due to the presence of gasoline fumes we had not used our distress flares; however, upon hearing this activity two of us went off some distance from the wreck until we could no longer smell the fumes and as soon as we saw the search aircraft come into view upon take off we let go several flares which the immediately saw and came directly to us and circled. A ground rescue team arrived at about 10:00 a.m. and carried those who could not walk.

We were a lucky group with only a few broken bones, some cuts and many bruises. I personally was extremely lucky as the whole nose of the aircraft including control column and co-pilot’s seat etc. were crushed into and partly through the forward bulkhead on the starboard side. If I had been strapped I would have been part of this wreckage.

As it was I received only some minor cuts and bruises, as well as two magnificent black eyes!. After a couple of days in hospital “under observation” I returned to Coal Harbour and on February 15th, seven days after the accident, I flew my next patrol as 2nd pilot on another crew.

In memory of Lance Lake

Notes:

Photos by Waldo Pepper, Garfield J Darroch, Neil de Boer

The Canso bomber (a Canadian built PBY) crashed in February 12th 1945 at 2300hrs just after takeoff from Tofino airfield on Vancouver Island. One of the engines failed completely just after takeoff, and the pilot had neither the height nor the speed to do anything other than to fly it straight into the trees.

She was built by Canadian Vickers at Cartierville, Quebec as constructors number CV-285 and was taken on charge on October 30th, 1943. It was eventually struck off military charge on April 13th, 1945 some two months after its accident.

Radars were operated in the area by the RCAF during the war (See the Map). From 1942 on there was an Early Warning CHL set established at Amphitrite point. (Uclulet). And in 1943 a very sophisticated (for its time) MEW (Microwave Early Warning) set was established at Tofino. There is nothing left of these sites.

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