Whitehorse Daily Star

Image title

Photo by Photo Submitted

A SCENE OF TRAGEDY – Strangely intact amid undamaged trees, the wreckage of DC-6B is seen from the air in July 1965. All 52 people aboard perished. Photo by STAN WALTERS

Yukoner had been slated to take doomed flight

Fifty years ago, western Canada was reeling in the wake left behind by one of the most destructive plane crashes the country has ever seen; it is also an accident that is seldom recognized.

By Aimee O'Connor on August 7, 2015

Fifty years ago, western Canada was reeling in the wake left behind by one of the most destructive plane crashes the country has ever seen; it is also an accident that is seldom recognized.

July 8, 1965: Canadian Pacific Airlines’ Flight 21 had left Vancouver at 3:30 p.m., bound for Whitehorse with scheduled stops in Fort St. John, Fort Nelson and Watson Lake, B.C.

Officials said they heard three staccato cries of “May day!” from Flight 21’s pilot, John Alfred Steele.

Minutes later, the plane exploded and crashed, falling into the woods west of 100 Mile House, B.C. – immediately ending the lives of all 52 people on board.

Of the passengers, six were Yukoners, including one seven-year-old.

Gordon Cameron, who was the Commissioner of the Yukon at the time, had ordered flags throughout the territory be lowered to half-staff.

One Whitehorse resident, Evelyn Tiedeman, was supposed to be on Flight 21– but she had taken a flight a few days earlier, as she had wanted to get up north faster.

When her father didn’t see Flight 21’s arrival in Whitehorse from overhead, he called the airline to ask what happened and received the stunning news that the plane had crashed.

“I remember saying, ‘I’m not flying again,’” Tiedeman said in an interview last month.

Of course, it was not just the fact that the plane had crashed that had Tiedeman counting her blessings.

It was determined later that a bomb had been set off inside the plane, which caused it to crash.

Bob Cameron, a Yukon aviation historian, said in a recent interview that witnesses told investigators at the time that they had heard an explosion and then seen the aircraft’s tail-end break off.

“Skin on the fuselage (or main body of the airplane) was curled outwards, which would indicate an internal explosion,” Cameron said.

In further investigating, traces of “explosive material” were found on bits of clothing, one of the bodies and in one of the lavatories. This led investigators to believe that the bomb had been set off in the rear washroom.

“Who would have thought back then that anything like that would have happened?” Tiedeman asked.

At that time, only one airliner bombing had occurred in Canada.

It was another Canadian Pacific Airlines flight, which crashed in Quebec in 1950, again killing everyone on board.

“In that case, it was a love triangle scenario ... a husband and girlfriend wanted to get rid of the wife,” Cameron said.

Police found three people guilty of the bombing, all of whom were subsequently hanged for the crime.

The woman among the three, Cameron said, was the last woman to be hanged in Canada.

In the case of Flight 21, all of the passengers were suspects – and all were investigated.

It was eventually narrowed down to four suspects, whose names were even published in newspapers along with the reasons why they were suspects – information which would never appear in publications today.

“I was amazed when I reviewed the (newspaper article) a few weeks ago, that they could name (the suspects) without having proof,” Cameron said.

“I worked with the guy who was the head of the investigation .... He told me they did know who it was, but they didn’t go public with the name because they did not have proof.”

The person responsible was never determined, and the case quickly went cold.

Cameron, who was in his early twenties at the time of the crash, was working a summer job at a logging camp in rural B.C.

He had been mailing his paycheques to his bank in Whitehorse. The bank would subsequently mail a statement indicating that the cheque had arrived and was deposited.

The statements, often weeks late, showed at the end of 1965 that one of Cameron’s cheques had not been deposited.

It was easy to figure out, with the date of the lost cheque, that it had been cargo on Flight 21.

“That’s my minor indirect connection to the crash,” he said. “My name was flying around amongst the wreckage somewhere.”

In Cameron’s book on aviation history, Yukon Wings, there is a brief mention of Flight 21.

He remembers the exact page number, as it is also the page where an unfortunate typo made by the publisher appears.

The date of the crash is published in the book as occurring in 1964.

Much to Cameron’s chagrin, it is an error that he has taken upon himself to correct by pen whenever he gets his hands on a copy.

With this year being the 50th anniversary of the crash, he doesn’t want people to be confused with the date from the book. He has made date alterations in about 200 books, he said.

On the anniversary of the crash, a memorial was held at the site of the tragedy, where a cairn with all the victims’ names engraved on it was erected two years ago.

A list of volunteers who helped recover the dead from the wreckage will be added to the cairn.

It’s a haunting thought – if Evelyn and her two children, two and four at the time, had taken the flight they had booked originally, they would not be here today.

“I ended up flying again .... (But) it was quite a few years before I flew again.”

An article that appeared the day after the crash in Manitoba’s Brandon Sun included a complete list of casualties. Among those were:

• Harrington, Whitehorse, Y.T.;

• Reilly, Whitehorse, Y.T.;

• Mrs. R. Simpson, Watson Lake, Y.T.;

• Mrs. A. Szonyi and child, Whitehorse, Y.T.; and

• Whimp, Watson Lake, Y.T.

Comments (4)

Up 2 Down 0

Kim Weber on Dec 21, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Lewis Heartland- Bob Weber is my grandpa. I wish I had the opportunity to meet him.
Crazy hearing all the details for the very first time in CBCs podcast, especially for my Dad and his siblings.

Up 4 Down 0

Mickey Fisher on Nov 12, 2018 at 2:25 pm

I remember the plane crash; we were playing softball in Watson Lake and Vic Cheropita, agent for CPA was suddenly called away. The rest of the players didn't know why but later learned of the plane crash.

Up 6 Down 0

Teresa Janet Coldwell Gutowski on Feb 17, 2018 at 11:35 am

I remember the plane crash well. I was 14 at that time. A good neighbour and friend Mrs. Simpson was on that plane. I missed her dearly. She would put different colour rinses in her hair pink, blue and green. I loved her❤️

Up 17 Down 3

Lewis Hartland on Aug 7, 2015 at 9:53 pm

I remember this clearly when I was ten years old when it happened. Everyone was shocked at the Emerald Mine (Canadian Explorations LTD) in Salmo, BC where I was born and raised there. One of victims was Bob Weber, who was the manager of the mine. I used to play with his boys at the mine. Tragically, no one survived. So my oldest brother was served as Canadian Forces (Army) from Chilliwack base so his team and himself went to the location where the plane was bombed and crashed near 100 Mile House to clean up debris and searched for an evidence.

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.