In the 1950s, helicopters were still a relatively new sight around Newfoundland and Labrador. The first helicopter rescue in Newfoundland was in 1946 with the rescue of the survivors from the crash of Sabena OOCBG near Gander. In 1953, helicopters were much more reliable and safer, but their use in any sort of rescue operation, like today, makes for an exciting and dramatic story.
This past spring the island saw a lot of pack ice. Middle Cove and Outer Cove became popular destinations for folks who wanted to see the ice, and some who decided to go out on the ice. In 1953, William Dunn of Tunis Court in St. John's, took to the ice with two unnamed companions to hunt seals. When Dunn didn't return that evening, a search started. His brother, John Dunn, set off at 5am on Saturday, March 29 from Logy Bay, and within an hour was marooned by slob ice about 150 yards offshore.
|Ice at Middle Cove Beach this past spring. Picture from bitstop-nfld.|
By 11am, the weather was still too poor for the Cansos, so Ensom contacted Rich who ordered a helicopter from Harmon Air Force Base in Stephenville. Added to the order was a line-throwing rifle from the US Coast Guard in Argentia.
|One of the buildings left in Stephenville from the Harmon Field days. Photo by Shannon K. Green, 2013.|
All of the equipment arrived by 2pm and a rescue party was formed to rescue John Dunn. The crew consisted of Porter, Ensom, two RCAF Para-Rescue personnel, Trent and Courtourier, Lieutenant Carmichael of the Coast Guard and a Navy seaman who could use the line-throwing equipment.
While this was happening, fishermen from Logy Bay determined that there was too much ice and the swells were too high to put out dories to reach John Dunn. Instead, Pat Malone, a veteran sealer, lead Frank, Dan and Coleman Cadigan's efforts to rescue Dunn. The fishermen used a system of planks, gaffs, and ropes to reach from pan to pan and guided Dunn to the shore. John was just making it to the shore as the large rescue team arrived in Logy Bay.
|Gaffs in the museum collection at the LBMCOC Museum. One was donated by Francis Cadigan, could it have been used in this rescue?|
While these rescue efforts were going on, the RCMP received word that another sealer, Frank Olson, was stranded off Sugar Loaf Rock, off Small Point, about two miles south of Logy Bay. RCMP and civilians had tried reaching Olson with a line, but to no avail. At one point, Olson caught the line, but dropped it in the water where it was immediately caked in ice and broke.
At 6:15, the helicopter arrived piloted by Captain Wills of the 52nd Air Rescue Squadron. Wills picked up Enson, who showed him where Olson was located. The helicopter hovered over Olson and lowered a harness. Olson fitted the harness under his arms and was lifted off the ice and hauled on board the helicopter. He was then let off at Small Point where the RCMP took care of him. The helicopter then left to search for William Dunn.
|Sugarloaf Path, part of the East Coast Trail, takes hikers past Sugar Loaf Rock and Small Point. From Hiking the East Coast Trail (and Beyond)|
|The Canso outside the North Atlantic Aviation Museum in Gander. Photo by Lisa M. Daly. 2013.|
In an interview, Ensom did warn sealers that if they go out on the ice, they do so at their own risk. Search and rescue operations can pose a risk to the aircrews and aircraft and that the air rescue service was not designed with "the purpose of picking up people who are foolhardy enough to take a chance on dangerous ice."
'Tell them,' F.Lt. Ensom said, 'that they are completely on their own when they go out on the ice.' -The Evening Telegram, 30 March 1953.
|Ice at Middle Cove in spring 2017. Photo from bitstop.ca|
1953 Back from the Rescue. The Daily News, 30 March 1953, p1.
1953 'Copter Pulls Man to Safety. The Evening Telegram, 30 March 1953, p.1.
1953 Two Men Rescued From Ice; Third is Still Missing. The Daily News, 30 March 1953, p.3.