Unsolved bombing of Yukon-bound flight not forgotten

The CBC podcast series Uncover: Bomb On Board takes a new look at a 53-year-old crime that took the lives of six Yukoners.

The CBC podcast series Uncover: Bomb On Board takes a new look at a 53-year-old crime

Jeff Lister lost a close childhood friend when Canadian Pacific flight 21 was brought down by a bomb in 1965. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Canadian Pacific flight 21 was bound for Whitehorse from Vancouver with stops scheduled for several B.C. communities along the way on July 8, 1965.

Not long before its first stop in Prince George, an explosion brought down the plane killing all 52 people on board, including six Yukoners. Whitehorse resident Jeff Lister's boyhood friend Alex Szonyi was among those killed.

"The trauma of losing a friend when you're seven years old is a very, very traumatic event and something you just never forget about," said Lister.

"And then every now and then it seems like every 10 years it comes up and you really get intense feelings again and then it would dissipate," he said.

It's come up now through a CBC podcast series, Uncover: Bomb On Board hosted by Ian Hanomansing and Johanna Wagstaffe.
An investigator surveys part of the wreckage of Canadian Pacific Air Lines Flight 21 which was downed by a bomb over the wilderness of the B.C. interior on July 8, 1965, while en route to Whitehorse from Vancouver. All 52 people on board were killed. (Transport Canada)

Whitehorse aviation historian Bob Cameron provided copies of old documents he had related to the crash to the CBC.

He said many Yukoners at the time were affected by the crash or knew somebody who was.

"To have such a horrific disaster happen on our local air service was of course absolutely devastating," said Cameron.

His uncle had been in charge of the maintenance on the downed aircraft.

"My aunt said he came home that day, she said it was the only time she ever saw him cry in their life together," said Cameron.

He said it quickly became obvious to investigators that there had been an explosion on the airplane, he said, adding a file given to him by his uncle indicates Canadian Pacific managers were frustrated by the federal government's reluctance to accept a bomb had been set off.

"They were very dogmatic in their approach to the whole thing to the extent that they would not entertain any idea of a crime having taken place or a bomb having been part of the story, they seemed intent on finding problems with the aircraft," said Cameron.

Bob Cameron, a well known aviation historian, says federal officials didn't want to accept a bomb had brought down the plane. (Philippe Morin)

The police looked closely at four of the male passengers as possible suspects in the explosion, but did not find conclusive proof of who the culprit was.

After 53 years, Cameron doubts the mystery will ever be solved.

"What are the chances of any more evidence coming out that might nail it down to one for sure, I can't really see that happening," he said.

Lister says, however, he's glad to see new attention paid to an unsolved crime.

"I just remember the last time I saw him," he said. "We were just walking down an alley and he'd got this brand new flashlight from his dad. I guess and he was so happy, you know."