|The Mud Pond Wreckage Mystery Solved
… Not a Military Accident, but an Interesting Glimpse into the Hazards of Early Commercial Aviation in Maine!
|While manning the Maine Aviation Historical Society's booth at the Annual Greenville Seaplane Fly-In in 1999, I was approached by a local who asked about a military crash site near Mud Pond in the Morkill Section of the Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks east of town. I was not aware of any such incident, but he told me that he had found some wreckage near the pond while hunting several years earlier and had been told that it was the wreckage of an “RCAF mail plane from the 1930s”.
Upon returning home, I reviewed the research of Jim Chichetto and Larry Webster, which contains an extensive list of military and civilian aircraft accidents in Maine and came up empty. I also consulted with Leo Boyle, the grandfather of Maine aviation history who offered a few leads that turned out to have occurred nowhere near this location. Interestingly, there was an “unknown” wreckage listed near these coordinates on an old 1960s Scott Air Force Base Crash Wreckage Locator List that I had in my files. It gave a crash date of 1938.
I conducted a follow-up phone interview with the original witness and confirmed the location of the wreckage that he found and a description of the airframe materials. He recalled no markings. After this, the unthinkable happened. I converted to a waterproof notebook for my crash site vest and managed to misplace the pocket notebook that I had in Greenville that day!
Over the intervening years, my work on this case has been limited to scanning R.W. Walkers RCAF Serial Number research project web site for a suspect incident, a few afternoons of newspaper research in local libraries and a single non-productive ground search for the wreckage in the fall of 2009.
Like many recent breaks that I have had in my research, this one came from an e-mail from a visitor to my web site in 2010. He said that he had read about the crash in a book that he had at his camp about the history of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. With the camp not accessible in winter, I had to wait until he returned to look up the details, but the mystery was quickly solved once he did.
The wreckage is that of Canadian Airways LTD Fairchild 71 CF-AAX which crashed on Christmas Eve 1930.
At the time, Canadian Airways, and its predecessor, International Airways of Canada operated an air mail route between Montreal, Quebec and St. John, New Brunswick. Navigation was both primitive and simple. It involved following the Canadian Pacific International of Maine railroad track across Maine and having a series of railroad station agents collect weather information from stations further up the line by telegraph. They would lay out white panel markers to pass this information on to pilots. A square for “good weather”, triangle for “fair-pilots discretion” and an “X” for “poor weather, turn back”. Most of the pilots used along this route were RAF veterans from WW I. They greatly disliked the part of the route across the interior of Maine due to its wooded character and lack of areas for emergency landings in case of trouble. This lead to pilots referring to the Maine section of the route as “The Bloody Khyber Pass” after the historically fought over and difficult to fly mountain pass between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
On December 24, 1930 Pilot “Babe” Woollett and Flight Mechanic Al Parker were en route from St. John back to Montreal. The Fairchild 71 had two fuel tanks and it had become common practice to allow one to run completely out and to switch tanks in time to allow the engine to “catch” again. This usually worked, but not that day. Unable to get the engine started again, Babe made a forced landing in the brush between the tracks and the pond. He and Al walked out to the tracks with minor injuries and flagged down a passing freight train. The aircraft was written off.