Nfld. & Labrador

1967 Czech airline crash in Gander remembered with new monument

A memorial was unveiled this weekend in Gander to honour victims of the 1967 Czech plane crash.
Alena Zimova, pictured above, survived the 1967 Czech air crash in Gander, N.L. (Julia Cook/CBC)

A memorial has been unveiled in Gander to honour victims of a September 1967 plane crash. 

The Czechoslovakia Airlines flight, which was headed from Prague to Cuba, crashed just seconds after taking off from a refuelling stop at Gander International Airport.

On Saturday, the Gander Airport Historical Society erected a plaque to commemorate the deaths of 37 people.

Alena Zimova, one of 32 survivors of the crash, said the memorial will help bring peace to fellow survivors and the community.

"This memorial now stands there to remind us of the terrific suffering and incredible rescue work which happened here years ago," she said.

"Gander was in a way my second birthplace, because I could have died there if they didn't help me."

A memorial was erected Saturday at the Czech plane crash site outside Gander Airport. (Julia Cook/CBC)

The Czechoslovakian Flight 523 crash happened early in the morning of Sept. 5, 1967. The rescue effort played out in the pitch dark, something that those who witnessed it will never forget.

Jim Dunne of St. John's and Wayne Dymond of Mount Pearl were at Saturday's unveiling, to reflect on being at the site of the crash 48 years ago when they both were just 18 years old.

"We were camping in the old runways, they used to call it, by the airport," said Dunne.

"We saw it go down, and jumped in a car and came down."

Wayne Dymond and Jim Dunne were at the crash scene in 1967. (Julia Cook/CBC)

The two men worked to move an injured flight attendant away from the site on a stretcher, and can remember ripping open suitcases to get clothes to cover victims that had theirs blown off during the crash.

"We came across the bog, and when I got in all I could remember smelling was jet fuel," said Dymond.

"Then about 15 minutes after we got in, the fire department came in with stretchers and we carried her across the bog."

For Zimova, the memories of surviving the crash are horrific. However, she says being able almost 50 years later to see the monument revealed gives her a new appreciation for being alive.

"Everything bad actually has some positive aspect to it. For me, it was on a very large scale. What was bad was really bad, and now the effect of it is really strong and positive," she said.

"They have done an incredibly beautiful job here, and I am forever grateful."

With files from Julia Cook