1985 Gander, NL Air Crash

Less than two weeks before Christmas, on December 12, 1985, a chartered Arrow Air DC-8 took off from Gander Airport, NL, after a planned service stop to refuel and augment catering supplies. The plane was en route back from Egypt with 248 members of the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army, returning to Fort Campbell, Kentucky after a peacekeeping mission to enforce the Camp David Accords of 1978. The plane had left Cologne, Germany in the wee hours of the morning of Dec 12 and arrived at Gander just after 9am that morning without incident. A new flight crew of 8 had boarded the plane in Germany. The flight crew was experienced and had worked together since Dec 1. The flight engineer was observed to make a visual inspection of the exterior of the plane before taking off again.

At about 10:15, the plane took off from Gander, headed for Fort Campbell. But the plane crashed about 900 feet beyond the runway. The plane experienced increased drag and a reduction in lift, causing it to stall at a low altitude and creating a situation from which recovery was not possible. All 256 on board were killed due to the force of the impact and/or the extreme fuel-fed fire that engulfed the plane afterwards. The official report could not determine without doubt the cause of the crash, but argues that the evidence points to a build-up of ice on the wings. According to the report, however, it is also possible that there was loss of thrust from the number 4 engine and inappropriate take-off speed, which may have compounded the ice problem. There are also conspiracy theories that suggest that an incendiary device was detonated onboard, although both the US and Canadian governments firmly stand by the report’s finding of ice to be the culprit of the accident.

 “Silent Witness” Memorial Statue at Gander Lake, NL


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