Canadian aviation disasters involve commercial and non-commercial Canadian aircraft, numerous Canadian fatalities, or are associated with Canada in some other way (e.g., the crash occurred over Canadian soil, or Canadians played a large part in search and rescue efforts). There have been many tragic events in Canada’s aviation history; this article details the most significant.
The first death involving an airplane in Canada was at Victoria, British Columbia, on 6 August 1913, when American barnstormer John M. Bryant was killed in the crash of his Curtiss seaplane. Such early accidents usually involved few people, owing to the small size of the aircraft; however, when aircraft became larger and their commercial use became more common, crashes assumed horrendous proportions. Canada's first major air disaster occurred on 25 August 1928 when a Ford Trimotor flew into Puget Sound in bad weather; seven people were killed.
Commercial Airline Disasters
On 9 December 1956, 62 people on board a Trans-Canada flight died, at the time making it the worst crash in Canadian aviation history. The plane disappeared en route from Vancouver to Calgary, and wreckage was later found on Mount Slesse, British Columbia. Among the passengers were members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, heading home from an all-star game.
Less than a year later, on 11 August 1957, this record number of fatalities was surpassed when a Maritime Central Airways DC-4 aircraft crashed near Québec City, killing 79 people. The flight, chartered by the Imperial Veterans of Toronto, was carrying Canadian veterans home from family visits in Britain.
The worst commercial airline accident in Canada involving Canadian aircraft was at Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville, Québec, on 29 November 1963, when a Trans-Canada Airlines DC-8F crashed four minutes after takeoff from Montréal–Dorval International Airport (now known as Trudeau Airport), killing all 118 people aboard. The cause of the crash was never satisfactorily explained.
Other important commercial airline disasters include a crash on 8 July 1965, when a Canadian Pacific Airlines plane exploded while flying from Vancouver to Whitehorse, killing all 52 on board. Several years later, on 5 July 1970, an Air Canada DC-8 made a heavy landing at Toronto, bounced and lost one starboard engine. In the pilot's attempt to take off and land again, the other starboard engine fell off and the aircraft crashed, killing all 109 passengers. And on 11 February 1978, a Pacific Western Airlines plane crashed while trying to avoid a snow blower on the runway in Cranbrook, British Columbia. Forty-three people died.
Air India Flight 182 and Swissair Flight 111
The worst air disaster associated with Canada and one of the worst in history was the explosion, likely from a terrorist bomb, of Air India Flight 182 from Toronto on 23 June 1985. The plane crashed into the North Atlantic off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 on board, including 280 Canadians. The incident resulted in major increases in airport security. Later that year, which was one of the worst for accidents in aviation history, a chartered DC-8 carrying 256 passengers, 248 of them US soldiers, crashed after takeoff from Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador. All were killed in the worst air disaster over Canadian soil. Disturbing rumours of the aircraft's previous record of mechanical difficulties followed the crash.
Though not directly related to Canada, Swissair Flight 111 is etched into the memories of many Canadians. On 2 September 1998 the flight, en route from New York, New York, to Geneva, Switzerland, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean near Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. All 229 on board died, four of whom were Canadian. Thousands rallied in support of the recovery effort, which included local fisherman, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Canadian Forces, the RCMP and the US Navy.
A number of other commercial airline crashes have occurred, several of them claiming dozens of lives. They have involved faulty aircraft, collisions between aircraft, collisions with ground vehicles and undetermined causes. However, progress in the development of automatic recording devices (black boxes) has made aircraft accident investigation increasingly sophisticated.
Some disasters are notable for reasons other than casualty figures. The crash of a Panarctic Oils Lockheed Electra (Rea Point, Northwest Territories, 30 October 1974) was the worst accident involving a non-commercial aircraft; 32 of the 34 people aboard were lost. Twenty-three people were killed on 9 September 1949 when a Canadian Pacific Airlines DC-3 was sabotaged with a bomb and exploded and crashed near Saint-Joachim, Québec. Joseph-Albert Guay and two accomplices were convicted and hanged.
In the modern air force, the worst crash occurred when a 435 Squadron C-130 Hercules transport aircraft crashed near CFS Alert, Northwest Territories (now Nunavut), on 30 October 1991 during Operation Boxtop, a resupply mission. Five people were killed; the rescue of 13 survivors, conducted in Arctic twilight and terrible weather conditions, has been considered a modern epic of heroism.