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Fliers honour fallen airmen

It was a black day in the history of the Edmonton Garrison. Master Cpl. Albert Camphuis was there.

It was a black day in the history of the Edmonton Garrison.

Master Cpl. Albert Camphuis was there. It was a sunny evening on March 29, 1985, and the base was celebrating the 61st anniversary of the air force with a fly-past, which included three huge C-130 Hercules transports.

"They had just flown overhead," he says, "and just as they were getting ready to peel off, one flew into the other and just started chewing it up."

The planes, Trucker Lead and Trucker Two, had inexplicably collided at about 7:15 p.m. about a thousand feet above the base. They crashed to the ground moments later, one smashing a wooden warehouse, the other coming dangerously close to a fuel dump. Debris rained down and flames leapt hundreds of feet into the air.

Camphuis, who was in a hangar working on planes at the time, says he couldn't believe it. "That two massive airplanes like that could fly into each other at that time was totally unheard of."

It was the first mid-air collision of its kind in Canadian history, one that took the lives of the nine Canadians and one American involved.

On Sunday, some 180 friends and members of 435 Squadron gathered at the garrison to remember them. A lone Hercules rumbled low overhead as they did so.

It was a tragic day, says squadron commander Lt.-Col. Richard Pamplin, one the squadron still remembers despite having long since left Edmonton. "I can only hope that during the 25 years since that tragic day … that people have been able to find some peace."

Friends of the fallen

Few people on the base actually saw the crash, says Maj. Rob McKenzie, who laid a wreath at the memorial service; the fly-past was over and most of the members were in the officers' mess for drinks. But everyone heard and felt the low 'whoomph' it caused. "When they felt that, everyone came running outside because they knew there was a big problem."

Anne Boisjoli of St. Albert says she was working at a hospital in Edmonton when she heard about the crash. She remembers calling her husband at home, and saying, "I just hope Lonnie wasn't involved." His silence told her everything she needed to know.

Capt. Lonnie "Cash" Register was a USAF pilot at the base who lived across the street and was killed in the crash. "He loved flying," Boisjoli says, and had previously been stationed in the Philippines. The two families used to babysit each other's kids.

She remembers cancelling birthday invitations for one of Register's boys the next day and watching his wife Rose as she told her six-year-old son that his father had died. "I don't think about it a lot but I get emotional when I do."

McKenzie says he was in Saskatchewan when he heard about the crash. It wasn't until later that evening that he learned that Capt. Iain David Mahaffey, his best friend, was among the victims. "That shook me up pretty bad."

Mahaffey was a sweet, gentle man who was highly intelligent and fluently bilingual, McKenzie says. "I know he was looking forward to being a dad," he says.

Mahaffey wasn't even supposed to be in the fly-past, he notes — he was on the base for training and had asked to come along. "I think about Dave pretty often."

About 1,000 people attended a memorial service for the airmen the following week, according to the Gazette archives. Then base commander Peter DeTracey called the crash "a black Friday for CFB Edmonton."

There was some good that came out of that night, Camphuis notes. Edmonton ambulance workers were on strike at the time, but immediately dropped their signs and drove to the base on hearing of the crash. It also led to a ban on close-formation flights for Hercules aircraft.

It also taught him the importance of doing his job right. "It can happen to anyone, anywhere, at anytime."

For pictures from the Gazette's coverage of the crash, go to:

The 10 fallen

Ten airmen died when C-130 Transports Trucker Lead and Trucker Two collided in mid-air on March 29, 1985. Their names were:
o Sgt. Robert Harry Brown
o Cpl. Joseph Michel Tony Doucet
o Capt. Robert William Drake
o Capt. Kevin Ernest Gerald Kennedy
o Capt. Iain David Mahaffey
o WO William Iver Oness
o Capt. (USAF) Lonnie Register
o Capt. John Derek Thorton
o Capt. Brian John Tulloch
o Capt. David Arthur John Whalen

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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