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1970: 109 dead in Brampton plane crash

When Air Canada first took flight in 1937, the sky was the limit for the country's new national airline. Originally known as Trans-Canada Airlines, the fledgling company enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the skies. But the post-Second World War economic boom ushered in a new Canadian jet set, eager to take advantage of new airlines that offered cheaper fares. In the decades since, the embattled airline would have to endure runaway inflation, a fuel crisis, a controversial merger, and a near-fatal brush with bankruptcy before its fortunes would rise again.

"As the plane grew near I could see the flames all over the right wing ... and then it just turned slowly and plowed right into the ground." This eyewitness account reveals the horror of Air Canada Flight 621, in which 109 people died under a clear blue sky on the morning of July 5, 1970. As a result of pilot error, the DC-8 plane flying on a Los Angeles-Toronto-Montreal route crashed into a farmer's field in Brampton, not far from Toronto's Pearson International Airport. In this CBC Radio report from Sunday Magazine, Clive Mason - an experienced pilot and reporter - delves into the moral question of identifying crash victims, which in this case he calls a "ghastly ritual."
• The plane crashed in a ravine winding through a farmer's field, in the village of Castlemore, now part of the city of Brampton.

• This radio report says 108 people died but the number was actually 109.

• The death toll in the crash was the largest ever at Toronto's Pearson International Airport (then called Toronto International Airport) and the second largest in the history of Canadian airlines, trailing a 1963 Trans-Canada Airlines flight north of Montreal that killed 118 people.

• According to several news stories, First Officer Don Rowland had misjudged the deployment of the wing flaps, or spoilers. As the plane touched down heavily, an engine and part of the wing fell off, forcing the craft back into the air to try to right itself. Speaking to Captain Peter Hamilton, Rowland said "Pete, sorry." "All right," replied Capt. Hamilton. Rowland requested a second landing attempt on the same runway but was told it was closed due to debris. He was redirected to another runway. The aircraft was now trailing fuel and soon a series of three explosions took place in the air, causing the plane to lose part of a wing, another engine, and the right wing tip. About three minutes after the initial landing attempt, the craft took a violent nosedive into the farmer's field.

Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Magazine
Broadcast Date: July 12, 1970
Guest(s): Ian Anderson
Reporter: Ken McCreath, Clive Mason
Duration: 9:40

Last updated: February 1, 2012

Page consulted on March 5, 2014

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