In 1941, an Avro Anson set out from No. 3 Service
Flying Training School (SFTS), Calgary, and didn't come
back. Edmund Marshall was part of the search and rescue party.
August 14, 1941 at 4 p.m., a training flight in a twin-engine
Avro Anson aircraft from No. 3 Service Flying Training
School (SFTS) at Currie Field, Calgary
got underway. On board, in the front seats, were instructor
Flight Officer (F/O) lan M. Sutherland Brown, of Vancouver, and student
Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Fred W. Greenfield, of Madison, Saskatchewan. In one of the
rear seats was Edmontonian Leading Aircraftman (LAC)
Alexander (or Mac or Sandy) McGruther. The aircraft should have been headed for the
training area, as described in standing orders, over relatively
tranquil terrain northwest of Calgary. The weather was suitable
for a training flight and there was lots of fuel on board.
When an aircraft is due back but has not returned, there
is much to be concerned about, especially by the Chief Flying
Instructor (CFI), and other aircraft are told to be on the lookout.
By nightfall, this training flight had not returned and there was no
other word. Phone calls were made to rural numbers
north and west of Calgary to try and find out if anyone
on the ground had heard an aircraft, possibly with engine
trouble. Someone had—an aircraft had been heard flying fairly
low, west of Bragg Creek, but it sounded okay. The next day at first
light, an intense aerial search got underway. However, there
still was no sign of the missing aircraft.
As luck would have
it, a student pilot who had flown solo was in the air force
"hoosegow" for having been caught flying where he was not
supposed to be. The
grounded miscreant got the word out that he knew where the
search should be directed. He was paraded before the CFI
and suggested that the search area include Canyon
Creek and Prairie Creek. On the basis of the information,
a ground search was launched, led by Jake Fullerton, who knew every inch of the
country. Those who accompanied him did not know the area at all, so they pretty well had to just follow
along. At the time, there was nothing more than a trail
west of the Bragg Creek hamlet, more or less following the
The ground search party was under the command of no less
than Wing Commander A.D. Ross, the officer commanding No.
3 Service Flying Training School (SFTS). The search soon started,
not much helped, however, by bad weather and very rough terrain. Three
other officers were part of the search party, one of them
being Flight Office (F/O) Claire Manning (This is the Manning of the once
well-known Manning Egleston Lumber Co, and who was also
a former Calgary Stampede President). Another was Squadron
Leader (SL) F.J. Cheeseman, a medical officer, and the third was
Flight Liuteneant (FL) McManus. Other ground searchers included a few
air force "other ranks," Jake Fullerton's crew,
Forest Ranger William Shankland, Calgary Herald reporters
David Stansfield and Denny Layzell, and staff photographer
The Avro Anson had indeed crashed. It had flown up
Canyon Creek towards Mt. McDougall. Like many others, the
closer the canyon was to the mountain the narrower it became.
The aircraft had flown in "no-no" territory and
there had been no hope in the world of turning this workhorse
trainer around or looping it out of its deteriorating situation.
An attempted landing on the boulders below would have torn
everything to shreds. The only choice was to stall the aircraft
into the trees, hoping this would soften the crash. So, down
Officer (F/O) Sutherland Brown, age 21, and Leading
Aircraftman (LAC) Greenfleld, age 22, were killed
upon impact. Leading Aircraftman (LAC) McGruther, age 20, was injured and unable
to move. He spent Thursday night in the aircraft with his
dead companions. On Friday morning, with a broken leg, he
dragged himself out of the aircraft. With pieces of a parachute
and a few nearby branches he made a splint of sorts. He
was then able to crawl to the almost dry creek for a drink
of water, then back to the plane. While at the creek bank,
he saw what he hoped was a search aircraft. It was. He dragged
the two other parachutes out of the aircraft, and with parts
of the aircraft, tried to make himself a shelter and bed.
This might have worked if it were not for the rain. As he
was cold and getting soaked, he crawled back into the aircraft,
rejoining his dead companions. That night, he was sure he
heard a bear crawling around the aircraft. Although he couldn't see
it, he yelled at it anyway.
On the Saturday morning, the ground search party reached
a point close to where, today, Canyon Creek crosses the Powder
Face Trail, and there established a base camp. The party
was then divided with one group proceeding west up Canyon
Creek. The distance to the base of the mountain would be
five to six miles. Close to noon, and almost at the end of the
canyon, they were sure they heard a yell. They did. Soon
the aircraft was found with Sandy beside it, rather happy
to greet his rescuers.
Better splints were made from wing parts for Sandy's right
leg, badly broken just above the knee. He promptly devoured
a chocolate bar, his first food since last Thursday's lunch.
A stretcher of sorts was put together and the difficult
return trip to the base camp got underway. It was an exhausting
trip. Almost the entire party (that is those who made the
distance to the wreck site), including the Herald reporters,
took turns as stretcher bearers. Photographer Joe Rosettis
was fully occupied and just glad to be alive getting himself
over the boulder and fallen timber route. Finally reaching
base camp, Sandy was fed some hot soup and put to bed on
parachutes and spruce boughs.
A waiting Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) ambulance was still more than 15 miles away.
Jake Fullerton invented a new stretcher. It consisted of
two "teepee-like" poles and a canvas tarp mounted
between two pack horses. It obviously was a better arrangement
for the slightly easier terrain. When the going was too
tough or too dangerous, the stretcher once again had to
be carried by hand. Following game trails, cattle trails and with much bushwhacking,
the exhausted rescuers and Sandy reached
the ambulance after an eight-or-so-hour trip, about 30 hours
after Leading Aircraftman ( LAC) McGruther had been found.
On Sunday morning, Wing Commander (WC) Ross left the base camp
on a saddle horse with all possible haste to summon more
help and to report on the casualties. Time was against him.
The replacement crew arrived at the ambulance's temporary
post at about the same time Sandy and his rescuers appeared.
The ambulance left with Sandy on board, plus a few of his
weary air force friends, who properly wanted to see him
safe and sound at the Colonel Belcher Military Hospital
The ambulance trip was no picnic—through rain and mostly upon muddy trails it took five
hours to travel the roughly 50 miles to Calgary. On Sunday
morning, a small party left the base camp with packhorses
to retrieve the two bodies that still remained in the