I recently had some time off and spent it on a visit to Vancouver Island. While there I took a morning to explore the crash site of a Canso that went down in 1945.
Amazingly enough I stumbled on another Canso on the way to visit the site. Here is a picture that is at Nanaimo airport, also on Vancouver Island.
She may still fly but it sadly she looks to be a static display. I took this picture on Sept 6, 2007.
Back to the wreck site. Here is a picture of the wrecked plane soon after the crash.
The Canso bomber (a Canadian built PBY) crashed in February 12th 1945 at 2300hrs just after takeoff from Tofino airfield on Vancouver Island. One of the engines failed completely just after takeoff, and the pilot had neither the height nor the speed to do anything other than to fly it straight into the trees.
She was built by Canadian Vickers at Cartierville, Quebec as constructors number CV-285 and was taken on charge on October 30th, 1943. It was eventually struck off military charge on April 13th, 1945 some two months after its accident.
The plane was carrying 12 who all survived the crash. Therefore this is not a war grave, though the site is in Pacific Rim National Park. So that makes it a crime to deface or remove any part of the wreck, which or course I respected. Sadly, most of the visitors have failed to heed this and it is clear that many have picked souvenirs from the site.
In case you are in the area and wish to visit. Here are some directions. There is a trail to the wreck site, that is mostly travelled by locals, kids for sure, and perhaps nature lovers as well. Here is a picture of what the entrance to the trail looks like today (Sept. 2007).
This trailhead is on BC Provincial Highway 4, on the left of the highway if you are travelling North. It is midway between the Grise Bay exit and the exit to Radar Hill. (More on Radar Hill later). It is approximately 4km past the Grise Bay exit. Each of the telephone poles along the highway are marked. A nearby telephone pole is marked 307. Parking on the highway is prohibited and you risk being towed. So take the Radar Hill exit and park at the entrance to this part of Pacific Rim National Park.
The first part of the trail takes you past a chain link fence and then you come across an abandoned Government building a little over half a km uphill into the woods. The building is highly overgrown and incredibly dilapidated. All the glass has been long ago broken out and there is some graffiti inside it.
After this building the trail takes a rather dramatic turn for the worse. It gets far more overgrown and is a little bit challenging. It is fairly straightforward to follow however, and after about a little more than a km or so you come upon the first sign of the site.
When the Canso went down it was carrying 4, 250lb depth bombs, which were safely detonated by RCAF personnel, forming a crater. In the years since the crater has filled with water and this is how it looks these days.
Here is another picture of a wartime Canso carrying four depth bombs. Also note the Yagi antenna outboard of the bombs for the ASV Radar.
As you can imagine there is considerable damage to the plane. But most of the damage was not done during the crash. One wingtip, an engine, and the front of the fuselage were damaged in the crash. There were plans to salvage the plane by the Canadian Museum of Flight (currently in Langley B.C.) But these plans have been in the works for over ten years now. And it maybe that the plane will be lost to nature.
Some recent images of the Canso as it looks these days.
The nearby Radar hill was a Cold War site for a radar. There is virtually nothing left of the site except some pipes (or perhaps they are electrical conduits) and some rusting fittings where the buildings once stood. There is an octagonal concrete pad where a Radar tower once was. But other than that all that is left are some spectacular vistas.
View from Radar hill, looking East.
View from Radar hill, looking West out over the Pacific Ocean.
Radars were operated in the area by the RCAF during the war. From 1942 on there was an Early Warning CHL set established at Amphitrite point. (Uclulet). And in 1943 a very sophisticated (for its time) MEW (Microwave Early Warning) set was established at Tofino. But aside from the memories of some Veterans, and pictures there is nothing left of these sites. Here is a map and some further details.
From Canadians on Radar.
"Millions of dollars were spent in constructing the radar chain, in purchasing the equipment, and in training personnel; and more than 3,000 officers and airmen were employed to operate and maintain the units. Yet, as far as is known, there were no tracks plotted from enemy aircraft. What then, it may be asked, did Canada get out of it all ?
I believe, and the records tend to prove, that the entire system was paid for in aircraft saved and experience gained. In one year on the West Coast, over fifty assists were given to friendly aircraft that were either lost or in distress, and the number was about the same on the East Coast. It is estimated that at least ten aircraft and crews probably owe their survival to the ground-based radar. If the estimate is true, this saving alone nearly paid for the chain."
The 12 crew of the Tofino Canso may also attribute part of their survival and rescue to the Radars in the area.
If you go, pack bug spray, water a flashlight and a light lunch. Also consult the park officials as there are Bears, Cougars and other unsavoury wildlife in the woods. Though of course I saw none.