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B-17 Search 1998
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The Crash


Appearing in a newspaper, the following is an account of the crash, search, and ultimate rescue of the crewmembers of the B-17:

Passengers, Crew Ill-Fated B-17 Are Safely Evacuated

Flown to Goose Bay After Experiencing 36 Hours In Labrador Hinterland;

Nobody Injured In Forced Landing.

Goose Bay, Labrador, Dec. 26- Information has been received from Col. Paul A. Zartman. Commanding Officer of this Newfoundland Base Command base, that all the crew and passengers of the ill-fated B-17 that made a forced landing on Lake Dyke, Labrador, have been evacuated to Goose Bay safely.

The spectacular rescue climaxed almost 36 hours of continuous search and rescue operations that included searching over 100,000 square miles of Labrador’s timberland and lakes, and utilizing search and rescue squadrons from all over the Newfoundland Base Command.

The Search began on the 24th December when Lt, Chester M. Kearney radioed Goose Bay that he was in difficulty and was making a forced landing on an unknown lake.  A few minutes later he again radioed Goose Bay and informed them that the landing was successful and all crew and passengers escaped injuries.  The Goose Bay Search and Rescue squad under the direction of Lt. Col. E. M. Jones. Director of Operations for this northern N.B.C. Base, immediately ordered all available airplanes into the air to participate in the search.  In less than an hour three planes were on their way to the last known position of the B-17 and shortly after two more planes left Goose Bay to join in the search.  By night fall over 20,000 square miles of territory had been covered without any success.  After dark three planes continued the search but again met with no success.

During the night the facilities of other N.B.C. Bases at Harmon Field and Greenland were called upon for their search and rescue planes.  At daybreak on Christmas morning seven multi-engined aircraft of the Air Transport Command in Newfoundland were ready for flight.   The crews were briefed by Col. Jones in the use of the parallel expansion search method and they were given last minute instructions “not to miss a square foot of their given area.”

B-17 spotted on Christmas Day

At 3 p.m. Goose Bay time, on the afternoon of Christmas Day a B-17 from Harmon Field flown by Capt. Tony Jewell, picked up a radio message from the downed plane that his B-17 was in sight and they gave him their position and directed him to the wreckage area.

Food Dropped

When Capt. Jewell sighted the marooned flyers he dropped five emergency rescue kits each of which contained food, clothing, medical supplies, hunting and fishing equipment and all other material that are necessary to make camp in the open where the temperatures that night dropped to 20 below zero.  Capt. Jewell then notified Goose Bay of the correct position of the airplane and also informed the Search and Rescue Squadron that there was enough ice on the lake to land a plane.  Since daylight fades very fast during the winter in Labrador, it was impossible to get an airplane equipped with skis to the now known Lake Dyke which is approximately 270 miles north west of Goose Bay, before darkness covered the area.

During Christmas Day a C-47 was brought from Greenland by Ly. Col. Robert C. Kugel with the necessary material to equip the plane with skis.  At the same time Westover Field, Mass. was contacted and requested to send Lt. Col. Emil L. Beaudry, an experienced ski plane pilot to fly the dangerous mission.  Fort Pepperrell was also notified of the proposed plans and requested to send JATO equipment (Jet Assist Take Off) to be installed on the modified rescue plane.  The C-47 was turned over to the aircraft maintenance section at Goose Bay for the modifications and the men of this section worked all Christmas Day and Christmas night when temperatures were ranging form zero to ten below.  The job was completed and ready for the test by 1 o’clock the following morning, December 26th.

While these preparations were going on Christmas night the Search and Rescue Squadron at Goose Bay kept in continuous communications with the personnel of the downed B-17

A little after 2 p.m. Goose Bay time the JATO equipment was tested as the C-47 left the runway at Goose Bay for  Lake Dyke.  At the controls of the plane was Lt. Col. Beaudry  s pilot and Capt. Ervin J. Werhand as co-pilot, 1st Lt. Robert J. Shaw navigator, Lt. Col. Robert C Kugel Command Officer of the Greenland Base Command acting as Command Pilot and S. Sgt. Howard G. Hosler, engineer.

Plane Landed

Approximately two hours later under the superb navigation of Lt. Shaw, Col. Beaudry sighted the B-17 on the lake.  After surveying the ice in the surrounding area he made a successful landing and taxied over to the awaiting airmen.  Within minutes the seven men were aboard the rescue plan, the door of the C-17 was closed and its nose pointed into the wind.  The swish of the JATO lifted the plane off the ice and the rescued men were on their way to Goose Bay and safety.

Four hours and twenty-nine minutes after the rescue plane departed from Goose Bay it returned with the survivors completing the most successful and extensive search and rescue operation ever to be accomplished in this area.

When the plane taxied to the operations building the rescued men were met as they got off the airplane by Brig. General C. V. Haynes, Command General of the Newfoundland Base Command and Col. Paul A. Zartman, Commanding Officer of Goose Bay who was directly responsible for the co-ordination and functioning of the entire operation.

B-17 after crash landing on Lake Dyke

Later in the evening the men were interviewed and they gave their names as follows:

Lt. Chester M Kearney, pilot, Iron River, Michigan.
Lt. Jack Bullington, co-pilot 5924 Charlotte St., Kansas City, Missouri.
Lt. E. Mann, navigator, 3201 N. 8th Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Lt. James Veleth Jr., 1241 5th Avenue, New Kensington. Pennsylvania.
Cpl. Dale T. Lemon, radar observer, Durant, Oklahoma.
Pfc. Clifford W. Thorne , radio operator, 112 N. Mill St. Louisville, Ohio.
Mr. Robert Tyrer, passenger, Barrie, Ontario, Canada.
Mr. J. D. Claghorn, passenger, Montreal, Canada.

During the interview Mr. Claghorn made the following statement:  “When we got on the ground and out of the plane we were wearing heavy clothing and had some food on the plane, so we didn’t have too many immediate worries.  Although the party was in the wilds of Labrador we were confident that we would be found by the Search and Rescue planes that we know would be in the air looking for us.”

Although at the time the alert was received a commercial air liner was in distress over the North Atlantic and a charter plane was overdue at its base in Newfoundland, the Search and Rescue Squadrons of the Newfoundland Base Command at Harmon Field, Goose Bat and Greenland exercised the greatest amount of efficiency and success in giving assistance by guiding the commercial airliner to a safe landing and finding and evacuating the crew of the B-17 in Labrador.  The charter plane was later flown in by its pilot after being weathered in on a small lake in Newfoundland.