Downed plane a mystery for 47 years

Late on the dark and stormy night of April 28, 1947, Trans Canada Airlines Flight 3 confirmed its approach to Vancouver airport.

Minutes later, the twinengine Lockheed Lodestar, with a crew of three and 12 passengers aboard, had vanished.

Then, as now, aircraft would make a loop out over Georgia Strait on their final approach to Vancouver airport. Did TCA Flight 3 come down in the salt chuck? No wreckage, no floating debris and no oil slick was found. Intensive searches by land, sea and air covered more than 12,000 square miles and failed to turn up even a trace of the aircraft.

En route from Lethbridge to Vancouver, Flight 3 had originated in Winnipeg, where David Vance came onboard. Vance, a lumber buyer supplying the post-war pre-fab housing market, was travelling on business. He left his wife, two young children, four elder sisters and his nephew, Dennis Reid, in Winnipeg.

"The big thing I remember is the search," says Reid, who was 10 years old when his uncle went missing. "All this technology today, we didn't have then." There were no black boxes, no emergency locator transmitters, in those days. The search area, over mountains and ocean, was huge and largely inaccessible.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8, 2014, is still missing, presumably somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. Despite the aircraft's sophisticated onboard technology and that employed by reportedly the largest multi-national search and rescue effort ever deployed, the vastness of the area of possibility makes the search for Flight 370 as formidable as that presented by the Lower Mainland's rugged terrain.

TCA Flight 3 lay where it crashed, deep in the North Shore mountains, for 47 years.

In 1992, pieces of an aircraft were discovered in deep bush near Mount Elsay, in North Vancouver. It was assumed the plane's location was known and the find was not reported until two years later. When Flight 3 was discovered on Sept. 27, 1994, then-coroner Larry Campbell said, "The wreckage trail is not very big.. .. Unless you're right over top, you wouldn't see it."

"Not many go back in there behind Mount Seymour. It's remote," says North Vancouver's Clary Jensen, who remembers the search planes flying overhead. Jensen has been hiking the North Shore mountains since he was 10. Jensen, 85 now, is still a hiker, a member of the North Shore Senior Ramblers Club.

On April 28, 1995, a memorial was dedicated to the crew and passengers who perished aboard Flight 3. Dennis Reid, now a West Vancouver resident, was there with the Vance family, remembering his uncle Dave. "It made it hard on the family, not knowing," recalls Reid. During the intervening years, some relatives of the missing died, never knowing the fate of their family members.

Earlier this year, Reid, Jensen and John Nixon were hiking with the Ramblers in the vicinity of the memorial. In his account of their trip to the area, John Nixon writes, "The trail climbed steadily northwards through tall stands of Douglas fir and spruce, with the trunks of many trees blanketed in thick green moss. Among the conifers were the rotting stumps of trees that had been logged long ago, and the accumulation of downed timber and dense vegetation so typical of rain forests.. .. We came to the memorial located just off the trail. One stone describes the tragedy with the co-ordinates of the crash site N 49'24"34 /W 122'56"84. The other records the names of the 15 victims in tribute to their memory. To the northeast through a gap in the trees, the ridge of Mount Elsay, where the wreck was discovered, can be seen in the distance."

The North Shore mountains are crisscrossed with trails, yet Flight 3 lay undisturbed for almost half a century. During the almost 30 years the Ramblers have been exploring our own backyard, they have developed hikes that suit their members' wide range of abilities. Knowledgeable about the wilderness and respectful of its challenges, the Ramblers are generous about sharing their accumulated experience.

Shirlee Smith Matheson's book, Lost, True Stories of Canadian Aviation Tragedies, has more information about Flight 3. For information about the North Shore Senior Ramblers Club, call the West Vancouver Seniors' Activity Centre at 604-925-7280.

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. 778-279-2275

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