Monday, February 2, 2015

Mount Slesse (Fang) 1956 Trans Canada Plane Crash

© Stephen Mullock

The name Mount “Slesse” comes from the local Halkomelem language and means “fang”, an apt description for a peak with a notorious history.

Located in the Cascade Mountains just north of the US-Canada border on a fine day, as we had last week, when this picture was taken, you can get a good view of Mount Slesse from Sardis.  It was late in the day and the warmer tones of a January sunset were playing on the mountain as I recalled its sad story.

On December 9, 1956, Trans Canada Airlines Flight 810 crashed near the peak of the mountain, killing all 62 people aboard. Canada’s worst air disaster of the time.  On board, were 3 crew members and 59 passengers including CFL team members of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders, returning home from the East - West all-star weekend football game.  

This aircraft left Vancouver on time at 6:10 pm but very quickly, a little over an hour into the flight things turned sour. 

The last transmission, at 7:09 pm, from the pilot indicated that they were in turbulent weather and that they had lost the use of one of the plane’s four engines.  Now located east of Hope BC they had decided to turn back for Vancouver.  The weather was extremely bad, reports indicating overcast skies, wind gusts of 90 km/hour and icing conditions above 4500 feet. The plane is reported as being flown at 16,000 to 21,000 feet going out but returning they requested a drop in elevation to 10,000 feet. Air Traffic Control approved they cross the Vancouver range at 8,000 feet or above.

Sleese Mountain (Fang) is one of the tallest peaks in this part of the Canadian cascade mountains at 2,439 m or 8,002 ft  It is a mountainous and rugged area completely devoid of people. In December, it would already have a snow cap of some depth.

Speculation suggests that the pilot may have thought the aircraft was flying above all the peaks. It would be dark that time year, of course, and with cloud cover the incisor shaped peak would have been nearly impossible to see.  The impact would have been unexpected and violent.

At the face-jut on the west side of the mountain just a mere 50’ from the peak the airplane crashed with such impact that it left a huge propeller impression like it had been pressed into the mountain. The bulk of the airplane then fell hundreds of feet below.

It took some time for the aircraft to be located.

Despite an extensive air search the wreckage would not be found until the following May when mountaineers Elfrida Pigou, Geoffrey Walker and David Cathcart made their grisly discovery.

Today, the site is protected from disturbance.  I had the opportunity to hike up this remote peak in 2012 and wrote a post about it then as well.

A part of our local history albeit a tragic story. 


Mount Slesse 2012 © Stephen Mullock

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1 comment:

  1. Some say the plane did explode once it hit the Peak of Mt.Slesse. It`s wrong. I have seen the crash site in 1959 during a two days trip by taking 8 mm movie pictures even of the crash site. I have seen fuselage windows, Bodys and some piles of Cloth. Nothing was burned ! I have seen a complete women Body with Long red hair. Nothing of all was burned. During Impact the plane was just compressed in total. Thats all about. Half of the plane I guess went down.