Pat Bay air crew recovered

Remains of missing men found 72 years after crash on Southern Vancouver Island

The Pat Bay Aerodrome in 1943 looking west to east. Four airmen flew from here in October

The Pat Bay Aerodrome in 1943 looking west to east. Four airmen flew from here in October

Four men who died during a training flight out of Sidney’s Pat Bay Aerodrome in 1942 have been found and identified 72 years after they were declared missing.

On October 30, 1942, Sergeant William Baird of the Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Air Force members Pilot Officer Charles George Pox, Pilot Officer Anthony William Lawrence and Sergeant Robert Ernest Luckock, vanished. They had flown out of the aerodrome — what is now the Victoria International Airport — on a navigation training exercise during the Second World War.

The wreckage of their aircraft, an Avro Anson MkI, was discovered in October 2013 on southern Vancouver Island by workers for Teal-Jones Cedar Products Ltd., a logging company operating in the area near Port Renfrew. They also found the remains of all four air crew.

From May 5 to 9, the Department of National Defence and the B.C. Coroners Office collaborated to remove and identify the remains.

The cause of the crash is not known but John Lewis, president of the B.C. Aviation Museum at the airport, says it is mostly likely due to poor weather.

“Flying was a lot more dangerous in those days,” Lewis said. “There was no radar, no GPS and if it got foggy, you were in trouble.”

The likely cause, he said, was that the pilot became disoriented and the aircraft struck the hillside at speed.

“But we cannot know that for sure. It’s just the likely reason.”

The museum is home to a display model of an Avro Anson MkII, an aircraft very similar to the one that crashed in 1942.

Lewis said there were 150 people killed during training missions flown out of the Pat Bay Aerodrome during the war years.

The airfield was considered at the time an OTU — Operational Training Unit. Air crew would receive their basic training, he said, and then come to Pat Bay for more advanced instruction before being posted to an operational unit overseas or at home. The Avro Anson was, he continued, typically used for navigation training at that time.

The crew of that flight, Lewis said, were recorded as missing and presumed deceased following an unsuccessful search. Their names were listed on the Ottawa Memorial to the missing.

“We will never forget the sacrifice of those who came before us,” said Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin, Commander of the Royal Air Force in a DND media release. “No matter how much time passes, doing the right thing for our people and their families is an Air Force priority.”