Tragedy in the Adirondack Mountains
Written by Shawn Wylie
It was the 15th of June, 1942 when four Harvards from #13 SFTS launched from St-Hubert, Quebec to conduct a night navigational exercise. Each aircraft was manned by an instructor and a student pilot. ‘G’ Flight was expected to make a 3-leg flight from St-Hubert to Ottawa, and then back again. The previous days flying had had to be cancelled due to poor weather with flying operations ending around 1500 hours. The next day, the 15th, flight operations commenced once again although the weather was cool and cloudy.
That was to be the final flight for 3 of the instructors and student pilots.
During the flight, with the weather and nightfall closing in, the aircraft had lost their bearings and wandered into the Adirondack Mountain region of New York. With the low cloud cover and poor visibility all four Harvards had flown into the mountains located in the Ragged Lake area. While search efforts for the missing aircraft from #13 SFTS had begun early on the 16th those efforts were curtailed due to low cloud ceilings and impending weather. No news about the missing aircraft was received until one of the instructors, F/O Wilson flying in Harvard 2931, telephoned from Fountain’s Store in Owls Head, NY. He reported that he had been involved in a crash at about 11:10 pm the previous night and that his student, LAC Desloges was seriously injured. Realizing that his student had received severe injury F/O Wilson had struck out down the mountainside to get help. During his wanderings he came across some lights of a camp across the lake. He somehow managed to break into a boathouse where he came across a canoe. Using the canoe he paddled his way across the lake to the camp where he found it to be inhabited by Mr. Joe Gagnon. Gagnon took F/O Wilson through six miles of rugged terrain to the store in Owls Head where he made his first report.
The RCAF immediately dispatched rescue personnel and ambulances under the direction of S/L O’Connell. Throughout their journey reports of other crashed aircraft came floating in to #13 SFTS. In the meantime as word of the crash got out, local citizen volunteers including nurses and ambulance crews, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York State Guard, the New York State Police, and the Boy Scouts, began searching for the remaining aircraft. The DEC dispatched an aircraft to search for wreckage. During their search they found the site of Harvard 3109 and Harvard 2931 in which F/O Wilson had been flying. RCAF flying crew also located Harvard 3092 which had flipped onto its back during the crash, instantly killing the instructor, P/O Thompson. His student, LAC Sanders, emerged from the woods at about 1100 hrs earlier in the day.
Of the eight instructors and students in the flight, 3 were killed and a couple of others suffered serious injuries. In fact F/Sgt Shum in Harvard 3109 received a King’s Commendation for saving the life of his student, LAC Lacerte.
To the present…
Skip forward 73 years and meet Scott Van laer. Scott is a Forest Ranger in the Adirondack Park charged with locating, surveying, and documenting old aircraft crash sites. His efforts and documentation assist in the search and recovery efforts of recently crashed aircraft by negating old crashes from the search. Since the documentation of these wreck sites is decades old and before the use of GPS coordinates, Scott has been researching and locating these wrecks through a lot of effort and some rugged footwork in the Adirondack Mountains.
His research includes using crash reports, interviews, newspaper articles, and word of mouth from the local hunters and populace.
Scott contacted CHAA last October hoping to find some more information regarding what he calls ‘the Lost Squadron’. Fortunately the CHAA Aircraft Recovery Team was able to assist him with a map taken from the original crash report. Scott credits the Recovery Team with allowing him to find one of the Harvards to date, and to focus his search on the other aircraft involved in the flight. Knowing that there are other aircraft nearby motivates Scott to continue his search.
Some would think it easy to locate a 70 year old crash site but there is much more to it than hiking up a mountainside and finding bits of metal. For one thing, the overgrowth prevents aerial searches and, even on the ground the searching is limited to a few feet. The topography means a well planned visit rather than just a walk in the woods. Van laer plans to continue his search for the remaining aircraft during the ‘better seasons’ when the undergrowth isn’t as wild. That usually means early spring or late fall.
Having located one of the crashed Harvards his goal is to locate the remaining.
This is a list of the ‘Lost Squadron’ instructors and students;
|Harvard 3092||P/O R.A. Thompson (J10153) and LAC R.V. Sanders, RAF, (658130)||P/O Thompson was killed instantly upon impact. LAC Sanders eventually made his way from the crash site and was able to report.|
|Harvard 3109||F/S Shum (R77071), and LAC Rosario ‘Bob’ S. Lacerte, (R115519)||While seriously injured with a broken leg and other injuries F/Sgt Shum was attended to by LAC Lacerte. Lacerte managed to splint F/Sgt Shum’s wounds and provide comfort throughout the wet night by lighting small fires using pieces of parachute and wet sticks. His actions gained him a King’s Commendation.|
|Harvard 3090||WO2 Val Legacy/ LAC J.C. Theorette||Both pronounced Deceased.|
|Harvard 2931||F/O Wilson (J7943) / LAC Desloges||LAC Desloges walked out a few days later with facial injuries. He later lost an eye but went on to get married and produce five children. F/O Wilson was the first to report the crash having made the canoe trip to Owls Head.|