Nfld. & Labrador

Families, vets 'still healing' 30 years after Gander Arrow Air crash

A military base in Kentucky is commemorating the anniversary of the deadliest aviation disaster in Canadian history.

U.S. soldiers in Kentucky say they are forever tied to the Newfoundland town

Audrey Caudill, mother of Philip Caudill, runs her finger across her son’s name at the Fort Campbell Gander Memorial in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. (Ireka Sanders/Submitted)

A military base in Kentucky is commemorating the anniversary of the deadliest aviation disaster in Canadian history. 

Saturday marks 30 years since the Arrow Air plane crash in Gander that killed 256 people — 248 American soldiers and eight crew. 

"Everyone [remembers] where they were when this happened," Ireka Sanders of the 101st Airborne Division told CBC's Central Morning Show

"For us, it's kind of a somber occasion and it's also [mixed with] a little anxiety," she said. 

"There's a lot of tears from the families and veterans still, a lot of them are still healing ... it's a time for us to think about what those soldiers meant to us and how we implement them into what we do every day."

Chief Warrant Officer Mickael Cruz stands with his son at the Gander Memorial Tree planted in honour of Cruz's father. A Canadian teenager donated 248 Canadian Sugar Maple trees — one for every soldier killed. (Ireka Sanders/Submitted)

The soldiers, known as the Screaming Eagles, were heading back to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for Christmas following a peacekeeping mission on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. 

After stopping to refuel in Gander, the plane crashed just seconds after takeoff.

Forever tied to Gander

Sanders said three decades later, the American base still feels connected to Newfoundland. 

"We have one family member who is a breast cancer survivor and she went to an event and they had a Gander, Newfoundland team," she said.

"She was able to go over to them and explain that she lost her brother in the crash and said they sat together and cried together and everyone remembered."

A monument called The Silent Witness, which features a U.S. peacekeeper accompanied by two children, stands at the site of the crash in Gander. 

Ireka Saunders (pictured left) of the 101st Airborne Division says the impact of the 1985 Arrow Air crash is still felt by soldiers at Fort Campbell today. (Ireka Sanders/Submitted)

It's important to keep the ceremony going, Sanders said, because "veterans want the families to know that they still mourn with them."

Children, she said, want to meet and speak with soldiers who knew and worked alongside their deceased parents. 

"This year we have people who were eight and who are 38 now, who came back to reflect," she said. "This community was so heavily impacted, they just can't foget."

Fort Campbell is being opened up to families and veterans Friday and Saturday. Families will be matched with a soldier of a similar rank to their lost loved one. 

"We're having a social that night so the families and the veterans can reconnect. Someone can walk around with a sign [identifying them] and [they] may possibly be the veteran that served with their parent, or their uncle or brother."

Memorial services are planned at the base and in a nearby town Saturday morning. 

More than 560 people have signed up to attend. 

Larry Hudson remembers

One of the only civilians allowed on the scene in the aftermath of the crash on Dec. 12, 1985, was CBC reporter Larry Hudson.

Hudson spoke to CBC News in 1992 about the experience.

Arrow Air

7 years ago
Duration 4:47
December 12th marks the 30th anniversary of the Arrow Air crash in Gander. Former CBC reporter Larry Hudson was one of the first reporters on scene and told our own Doug Greer what that was like.

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