Cold War navy pilots honoured on Cypress

Memorial cairn erected at crash site more than 50 years later

More than 50 years after their military jet crashed in Cypress Provincial Park, two Canadian navy pilots who were largely forgotten now have a memorial.

A crowd of active and veteran members of the Canadian Armed Forces gathered at the top of Mount Strachan Thursday morning to honour Lt. Norman Ogden and Lt. Donald Clark.

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The navy scrambled search teams on Nov. 23, 1963 after Ogden and Clark's Lockheed T-33 jet lost contact with Vancouver air traffic control and disappeared from radar.

They were on a training flight to keep their proficiency up and sharpen their ability to fly using only their instruments. After a difficult three-day search, a navy helicopter pilot spotted the wreckage atop Mount Strachan, next to what is today Cypress Mountain's T-33 run.

From there, the team had to organize a recovery effort to retrieve Ogden and Clark's bodies by foot.

"It was nothing like it is today. It was all bush," said retired RCN commander Al Horner, a friend of Ogden and Clark's and the man who led the search for the crash site.

There's still no clear answer as to what caused the plane to go down, Horner added.

"We still don't know how it happened. There's lots of conjecture but no one really knows," Horner said. "We knew that they were going fairly fast by the debris field. I guess, about the only lesson learned, was that it was quick."

Ogden and Clark's disappearance and the search effort was skipped over by most news outlets as much of the world was in shock over another event - the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy one day earlier.

The memorial ws spearheaded by Richard Dunn, member of the Air Force Officer's Association and the Battle of Britain Memorial Fund, which helped pay for the memorial along with support from the RCAF 192nd Construction Engineering Flight and retired veterans.

Dunn went looking for the crash site last August and found only a small plaque with little more than an explanation of the crash, and nothing in memory of the pilots who were killed.

Though Thursday's event wasn't meant to be sad like a funeral, it was still highly emotional for Horner as it was his first time back to the top of Mount Strachan since the search effort.

"It's amazing how things come back. As I was driving out here, we had the mist and cloud tops up here and I thought 'Bloody hell. Here we go again,'" he said.

At the time, the navy had only a small air fleet so the pilots all knew each other well.

"We worked together. We flew together. When we were on the carrier, we lived together. We socialized together," Horner said. "Don Clark was with me when I met my wife in Gibraltar but that's a different story.... It's a rather trite phrase, but in those days we were a band of brothers. It's very true."

Today, Ogden and Clark are buried in adjacent plots at a navy cemetery in Esquimalt.

Ogden's eldest daughter, Dale Lane, was on hand to receive the Royal Navy Ensign that shrouded the monument.

"It was a bit of a shock getting the call all these years later, out of the blue," Lane said of learning about the effort to create the memorial. "I think it's fantastic. I love it. I just hope they keep doing this. It means a lot to our family."

Despite their best efforts, organizers had no luck tracking down any of Clark's family.

The ceremony ended with one of today's RCAF Buffalo search planes conducting a flyover as the sun broke through the clouds.

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