30 years ago: mid-air crash at CFB Edmonton

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Unread post28 Mar 2015, 22:03

Edmonton Sun wrote:30 years ago: Nine Canadian Forces members, US exchange pilot killed in mid-air crash at CFB Edmonton
By Trevor Robb, Edmonton Sun
First posted: Saturday, March 28, 2015

It's been 30 years since nine Canadian Forces members and a United States exchange pilot were killed in a tragic mid-air collision involving two C-130 Hercules transport planes, and Bernie Sheppard is still asking himself, "what if?"

"In essence, you can see after the fact why it happened," said Sheppard, 75, a former Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) member of 48 years. "In the accident report, (the crash) was attributed to the fact that no authority was given, sufficient briefing was not held and the fact that there was an American pilot flying one of the Hercs.

"If they had the proper briefing that American pilot would have asked how they do a bomb burst. The Canadian pilot was banking while the other plane was supposed to count so many seconds and then bank, but instead he banked too soon and came right up underneath the other Herc."

After spending five years deployed in Europe just five minutes from the Eastern border of the Soviet Union, Sheppard returned to Edmonton in 1980.

He recalls the events on March 29, 1985, when two Lockheed CC-130 Hercules transport planes collided in mid-air and crashed at CFB Edmonton, formerly known as CFB Namao - a 2,800-hectare base which served as the major search-and-rescue centre for Western Canada, with close to 85,000 take offs and landings annually and housing close to 2,300 military personnel and 800 civilian workers.

The planes, Trucker Lead and Trucker Two, were flying in a three-ship formation during a ceremonial flypast marking the 61st anniversary of the RCAF.

After spending the entire day at the base where he worked as a supply technician, then Master Warrant Officer Sheppard and his wife were out for a night on the town, taking in a movie at a nearby theatre.

It wasn't until after the couple came out when Sheppard knew something was wrong.

"We heard sirens...my wife asked 'what's all that noise?' And then sure enough we got into the car and heard on the radio that the accident happened," said Sheppard.

At the time of the crash, witnesses said the two four-engine cargo planes were about 300 yards above the ground. It is believed the wingtips of the two aircraft touched, which caused the planes to plummet to the ground; with one crashing into a long, wooden warehouse building that housed an old Second World War Lancaster plane, and the other landing between two fuel storage tanks holding thousands of litres of aviation fuel.

Upon hitting the ground, the planes erupted into a huge fireball, shooting flames up to 300 metres into the air. All five crew members from each plane were killed.

When Sheppard arrived on base the next day, the crash sites were cordoned off by military police, but the feeling of tragedy was palpable.

"The smell was still in the air," said Sheppard. "I remember just rationalizing it. Because it was the Cold War and Americans were losing aircraft all the time in Vietnam, you were in a mindset of the Cold War. It was a steady diet of that, we were sort of conditioned to it. We sort of accepted it but we were glad we weren't involved... I tried to imagine, but you can't imagine when a family loses somebody in an accident situation like that."

While Sheppard only knew those who died that day by name he vividly remembers one younger member who specifically asked Sheppard to get him onto one of the Hercules planes for the fly-past.

"I remember getting him on the aircraft and he died in the crash. There's those things when you think back whether I could have or should have done things differently, but you don't think about that until afterwards."

Sheppard has since retired from the air force - capping off his near half a century of service on July 15, 2005. He has been working with the Alberta Aviation Museum for the past 22 years, where he now locates missing parts for some of the airplanes at the museum.

Sheppard still thinks back to the that tragic day, wishing things could have been gone another way.

"After the fact, when you realize could we have prevented that? I think yes," said Sheppard.

Source: http://www.edmontonsun.com/2015/03/27/3 ... b-edmonton
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