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101 Squadron completes cairn project

The 101 (N.I.) Squadron dedicate the last in a series of memorial cairns.

PORT HARDY— A memorial cairn, dedicated this weekend at Port Hardy airport, commemorates six lives lost in 1944, and also marks the end of a lengthy project undertaken by the 101 (N.I.) Squadron.

Since 2000, the 101 has been working on a memorial project to erect a cairn at all crash sites on the North Island where military aircrew have been lost. The latest cairn was erected to remember those that died in the 1944 crash of Dakota 966.

The aircraft was operating as part of 165 Squadron, now 435 (T&R) Squadron out of Winnipeg, and was tasked with dropping passengers in Port Hardy before refueling and continuing to Alaska. A fog bank made the job of the pilot difficult, but he was able to successfully land and refuel.

Conditions were improving when the aircraft, with its three crew and ten passengers, began its takeoff. Just after clearing the runway the aircraft began to turn to port and struck trees, shearing off part of the wing and cartwheeling the aircraft into a partially cleared area of woods. Six people were killed in the accident including the pilot and co-pilot, and four more were seriously injured.

An investigation into the incident revealed no problems with the aircraft or its load. The possibility that the autopilot was engaged on takeoff was suggested as a cause of the crash.

Members of the 101 Squadron were joined by officers from 19 Wing Comox and members of the 888 Wing of the Air Force Association of Canada at a commemoration for those that died. The 101 unveiled its memorial cairn at the ceremony. This cairn is the ninth that the Squadron has dedicated on the North Island, and also the last. The 101 has now placed a cairn at the site of each military aviation fatality on the North Island.

The Squadron will now turn its attention to other projects. Members plan to collaborate with the Legion and First Nations in Port Hardy to rebuild the Cenotaph in Carrot Park in the coming year. Following that project, the Squadron plans to erect plaques to mark former Air Force stations on the North Island.

The 101 Squadron, formed in 1997 as a part of 888 Wing of the AFAC, is made up of volunteers who aim to raise awareness of the importance of Canada’s Air Force and civil aviation. The cairns and other projects are paid for through fundraising activities.