Plane Crash in Fairview, 1953

Submitted by Devonna Edwards

Two airplanes, a Sea Fury and an Avenger, collided over Fairview with a deafening roar on April 9, 1953.

Eyewitnesses told of seeing a blue and white flash as the planes came together. On that night, bad weather made squadron programmers from HMCS Shearwater limit flying operations to the local area. The conditions were further aggravated by reduced visibility and congested air traffic in the vicinity of the airfield.

There was a generally low ceiling of about 1500 feet on this night when Lieutenant Bob O’Neil, having just joined the squadron after completing his operations training in the UK, was on his first night of familiarization from Shearwater.

Flying an 870 Fury squadron aircraft, Lieutenant O’Neil inadvertently flew into the cloud base just after becoming airborne. He quickly descended to regain visual contact with the ground, but at the same time, two Avengers, flown by Lieutenant Fred Rice and Lieutenant Robby Hughes were in formation below the cloud base, about ten miles to the west of the field, on a night proficiency flight. Hughes, who was formatting on the lead Avenger flown by Rice, was horrified to catch a glimpse of the Fury (piloted by O’Neil) appear suddenly and in a blinding flash, slice through the cockpit of Rice’s aircraft.

With its cockpit torn away, Rice’s Avenger continued momentarily, then crashed into the waters of the Bedford Basin. The Fury crashed into a nearby hill (behind where Icon Bay now stands on the Bedford Highway), causing a roaring bushfire which kept rescuers from the burning wreckage.

While hundreds rushed to the site of the hilltop tragedy, naval search vessels assisted with high powered searchlights and helicopters probed the waters of Bedford Basin. The body of the flier, lost in the Bedford Basin crash, was recovered by the Navy at 12:30 A.M. Hundreds of cars flocked towards the crash scene and police were called in to deal with traffic and to hold back the crowds gathered around the tangled hilltop wreckage. Thousands lined the highway skirting Bedford Basin to watch the small ships search for plane wreckage in the water.

Charles Irving was a member of the A.R.P. (Air Raid Patrol) volunteer fire department at the time and he was the first person to arrive at the site of the downed Fury. Although the area was roped off, many souvenir-hunters came and took parts of the wreckage, such as pieces of windshield glass. Many Fairview residents made pendants out of the glass and hung them from necklaces. Ronnie O’Flaherty, then a young boy living on Ford Street near the crash site, remembers the police knocking on doors in his neighbourhood, trying to gather pieces of the wreckage that people had taken home.