Ceremonies mark anniversary of deadly Newfoundland air crash

Solemn ceremonies are being held in Gander, N.L., on Monday to mark the 20th anniversary of the worst air disaster on Canadian soil, the Air Arrow crash.

Twenty years to the day, crews who had searched in vain for survivors of the Arrow Air crash came to a church in Newfoundland Monday to remember those who perished in the worst aviation disaster on Canadian soil.

On Dec. 12, 1985, the chartered Arrow Air DC-8 crashed less than a minute after taking off from a refuelling stop in Gander, killing all 256 people on board, including 248 U.S. peacekeepers returning from duty in Egypt.

Police officers and firefighters on duty that day were among those who gathered at a church in Gander on Monday to remember the dead.

"It seems like yesterday. The hurt is still there," said Maj. Alexander Conyers, who lost a cousin and friend in the crash. "The memories linger on, and we miss them and we love them."

A procession wound its way through driving rain from the church to the Silent Witness memorial, which was built on the site of the crash and features a statue of a peacekeeper holding the hands of two children.

Similar ceremonies were also held Monday in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where the 101st Airborne Division was based. The troops had been heading home for a Christmas vacation.

The Arrow Air crash remains the worst aviation disaster on Canadian soil. The former Canadian Aviation Safety Board's official ruling was that ice on the wings probably caused the disaster.

But the official explanation has never sat well with families of the dead soldiers, nor with aviation experts, including dissenting CASB members.

In the years that followed, some evidence was disclosed, including autopsy reports which showed that soldiers had inhaled smoke in the moments before they died, indicating there had been a fire on board before the jet hit the ground.

Les Filotas was one of the four members who filed a minority report, and later wrote a book called Improbable Cause, which suggested other causes – particularly an explosion – may have been responsible.

Filotas, who is certain there was a coverup of evidence about the disaster, says his hope of another investigation has since faded.

"I used to think so and hope so, but after 20 years nothing has changed," he said. "So, I have to reluctantly believe that maybe it will be forgotten."

Florida resident Zona Phillips – who helped found a group called Families For Truth About Gander – has also given up hope for learning more about what caused the Arrow Air disaster.

Her 23-year-old stepson, Sgt. Doug Phillips, died in the disaster.

The group was able to trigger a shortlived Congressional investigation in Washington, and had stoked media interest in the case in the early years following the disaster.

But the group disappeared as members died or were stricken with poor health.

Debate and conspiracy stories about the Arrow Air disaster continue on the internet.