Tuesday, December 8, 2009

60 YEARS AGO: Dow Chemical CEO, and Four Others, Perish in Fanshawe, Ontario

MARCH 31, 1949

JOHN W MCKAIG had stepped out of his house and was going up the laneway to check the mail, at roughly about 10:30 am, when he heard an airplane flying nearby. Thought nothing of it really. He lived close to the airport, and he heard twin engine airplanes, like these, all the time.

But, when he finally did look up, what he saw, startled him!

He set his eyes on a Dow Chemical Beech 18 coming from the west, and it was heading directly for his house!

His wife and the children, he thought. Have to warn them… to get out. He started running back to the house…

Good grief, the aircraft was now flying only about twelve feet off the ground! And look at how fast it was going!

Suddenly, AJ Bowie, the Dow Chemical pilot, violently swerved the company's Beech 18, just narrowly missing the occupied home. John noted that Beech 18 had already passed between the Dobinson home, and the Dobinson barn safely, when the collision course toward his homeshead been adopted.

Thankfully, the pilot had been able to make this crucial, last second, adjustment.

John watched, spellbound, as the Beech with its wheels down, dropped even lower, and continued on.

Finally, tragically, it plowed into a knoll that was on the far reaches of his property, only about a half mile away. As it hit the knoll, flash fire flames engulfed the entire cabin of the aircraft. It became a flaming streak as the plane bounced, and continued forward for another 200 feet before it heaved to a full stop.

ERNIE DOBINSON who was entering his barn when the Beech 18 flew by, watched in horror as it passed, only to crash into the knoll.

He was the first person to arrive on scene.

What he saw when he got to the flaming wreck astounded him.

Somebody, was actually, getting out of the airplane!

Soon enough, they'd learn it was Calvin Campbell. And he was trying frantically to pull something out of the wreck!

NO! Not something! Someone!!

Sadly… it was the body of his wife!

But the heat was too much, and Calvin finally stumbled backwards to safety. Momentarily. He attempted yet again to enter the burning plane, but had to fall back even more quickly. The heat was so intense. He couldn't accept it, but he knew then, that she was already gone.

Calvin, and Ernie watched helplessly now, from a much safer distance, as the inferno consumed the rest of the cabin.

The engines and the Beech undercarriage were behind the wreck! But how?

WILLIAM CORFIELD was flying overhead and was amazed at what was unfolding on the ground below him. He swung his single seater around, and immediately dropped down to the runway, which surprisingly, was almost just below him. By the time he had stopped and was out of his airplane at the other end of the runway, there was now an RCAF airport truck bearing down on him. Someone motioned him to get on, and so he, too, was on his way back to the crash.

When William got out to the crash, about a dozen folk had gathered. They were milling about the wreck. John and Ernie brought Calvin, who was now overcome with grief, over to the RCAF truck. He had to be helped aboard, he could hardly stand, and as soon as Calvin had settled in, the truck lurched forward, and left, speedily making its way to St Joseph's hospital.

Calvin couldn't understand it. How did this happen? Sure the weather had been sketchy, yet the flight crew didn't seem overly concerned. And now, everyone, was gone!

What would he tell his kids?

William walked up to the Beech 18. The onlookers were silent. Courtesies, were extended through nods. Stoic, these Ontario farming types, he thought.

The Beech 18 was not an airplane Bill liked. He wasn't impressed with it, at all. The manufacturer sung a different tune, for sure… but he had flown the "18", and he didn't like it.

As he approached charred wreckage, "– – – – – –", he thought to himself, "…the Beech's magnesium roof was gone!!"

William was absolutely shocked. Since the Beech's roof was conveniently gone, burned off, he could lean over the still mildly smouldering fuselage, and look right inside the cabin, and into the cockpit!

Like some sort of horrendously, gruesome, displayed cutaway!

Everyone was in position.

The five occupants though were burned to an unrecognizable mound, of charred, glazed flesh, and clothing materials.

Willard, and the women, or even the flight crew, hadn't had a chance to move. They were roasted alive in that final 200 foot journey inside that burning coffin!

What a horrible way for these RCAF airmen to go, William thought.

A flash fire had enveloped the Dow airplane as it struck the knoll, and that horrific fire was fed by the airplane's full to capacity fuel load.

At this point in time, no one knew that it wasn't an RCAF aircraft, as all aircraft registration and identification lettering, had been burned off the Beech's fuselage. And the RCAF had lots of Beech 18s.

No one even thought it for a moment that it could be a civilian airplane.

Clearly, it was a Beech 18, and that's all that was immediately known.

It would be later, as Calvin was checked out at the hospital, that the true identities of the airplane, its destination, and its occupants would become known.

And when that knowledge was imparted, to the people that needed to know, the crash investigation would take a whole different and more serious direction.

One toward secrecy and containment, and a need-to-know basis.

A famous person and his wife, had died, right here, in the small town of Fanshawe, near to the London airport, and no one had a clue as to why—

But the investigators were going to find out… make no mistake about that friends… and a large entourage of Dow people, American crash investigators, and Michigan police were packing their things, and getting ready to fly up to Canada, from that state, to make sure of that.

One additional, startling, revelation emerged rather quickly.

There was something missing from the airplane.

And it was something important. Something expensive…

TO BE CONTINUED… (Part 2 of 3)

Top photo: Crashed Dow Chemical Beech 18, cabin and cockpit, fore of the antenna are clearly burned out…

Bottom Photo: (left - right) DA Brown (expeditor, Dow Chemical), RW Rogers (Chief of Police - Midland), Ira Smith (Sheriff - County of Midland), Ray Rowe (Constable - Midland Police)

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