I became aware of the crash site of the Canso 11007 bomber on Vancouver Island near Tofino while researching places to photograph on our trip to the Island. It has been sitting here since the day it crash on February 8, 1945. The trail entrance is not well marked and we would not have found it without the help of the locals. The trail is challenging and muddy! If you plan on doing this hike I suggest you wear rubber boots and pay attention to the markers or you could get lost. I knew very little about the history – I just knew I needed to see it. I have since done some research and have written this account of what happened based on that research.
The Last Flight of Canso PBV-1A. RCAF Serial Number 11007
Flying Officer Ronnie Scholes shoved the throttles forward on the Vickers Canso PBV-1A. RCAF serial number 11007. It was 11:00 pm February 8, 1945 as they lumbered down runway 28 of Tofino airport with 12 personnel, its normal emergency gear and a full load of fuel – about 750 Gal. (3,400 L). The aircraft also carried four 250-pound (112.5 kg) depth charges as they were on a routine night patrol, looking for Japanese submarines.
As Scholes watched the end of the runway disappear under them the unexpected happened. The port engine quit cold. Scholes quickly went through his options. Too low to turn and not enough power to gain altitude left him with only one option – land straight ahead. Fighting to maintain control Scholes kept his cool and came up with a plan to minimize the impending impact. As they broke through the trees he managed to slow the plane by pulling it into a full stall. Fearing the worst the crew braced themselves as they slammed into the ground.
Navigator F/O Lace Knechtel was riding in the port blister, facing aft. When they hit the aircraft stood almost upright on its nose. He could see the tail go up and up until he was looking at the stars past the tail; then it crashed back down into the bottom of a heavily wooded hillside only a few miles from the airport. All the lights in the aircraft went out. There was no sound from anyone. He thought they were all dead, until he heard someone start swearing. Knechtel then heard a crackling noise. Looking out forward he saw, through a waterfall of gasoline from the ruptured left wing tank, that the port engine was on fire.
Knowing what had to be done he yelled for a fire extinguisher. One of the engineers handed one to him and he climbed up over the wing by kicking a foothold to get started. As he got over the top, the extent of the damage revealed itself. The nose was ripped completely away forward of the pilots’ seats. The seats were just sitting there in the open! The nose was lying off to the right and on its side. The fluorescent instruments were glowing in the dark and he could hear the gyros still humming. Having put out the fire it was time to assess the casualties.
Miraculously everyone had survived! Knechtel and 2 others were uninjured. Flying Officer Ronnie Scholes had a fractured forehead and a broken nose, WD Aircraftwoman 1st Class RJ Pike had a sprained ankle and the others had numerous cuts and bruises, all minor.
The three uninjured dragged out the parachutes and stumbled about 150 feet (45 m) away to the level ground behind the wreck and then made trips back to the aircraft for sleeping bags and emergency rations. Using one of the parachutes they set up a tent and remained there overnight. After bedding down the more seriously injured they established a watch. They tried the Gibson Girl (emergency radio) without an aerial, as Knechtel wouldn’t allow any of the fellows to climb a tree in the dark. At about 0300 hours they could hear shouting at the airport and then an aircraft cranked up.
Back at the Tofino air field they had received word that Canso 11007 failed to arrive at Coal Harbour. Before first light at 0330 hours, Canso 9753 with F/O Weir at the controls took off into the dark night. A few minutes later, Weir spotted a red flare. Relieved to have found them he circled around the hill and F/O Edward “Ted” Darroch dropped a parachute flare to let the survivors know they had been spotted.
On the ground Knechtel had just stopped cussing the rescue pilot for his blindness, when he saw them come around the hill from the other side, circling left and dropping a parachute flare. Relief that they had been found quickly turned into horror, as they feared the flare would land on them or the aircraft covered with spilled gasoline and bombs on board. Fortunately the flare missed everything.
Later that morning another search aircraft took off flying in a straight line to the crash site. The Canso circled as a beacon homing a ground party to the downed aircraft. After reaching the wreckage, the injured were packed out while the others walked, all ending up base hospital for treatment or observation.
Aboard Canso 11007 that day were:
Pilot F/O Ronnie J. Scholes
Co-pilot F/O LC Laker
Navigator F/O Lace Knechtel
Crew P/O Clarence Sartorius
Crew WO2 LH Malcomston
Crew WO2 JB Campbell
Crew WO2 CH Henningsen
Crew F/Sgt. RW Hacker
Crew Sgt. RF Bell
Crew Sgt. WA Hooge
Crew AW1 RJ Pike
Crew Mr. DF Marlett
Research was drawn from the following sites: Some of these sites have pictures of the crash site taken by the rescuers.