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Airliner Crash at Gander

The flames were impossible to extinguish

The flames were impossible to extinguish

A chartered military plane crashes after take off.

On December 11th 1985, the 101st Airborne unit of the U.S. Army left Cairo, Egypt, on a chartered Arrow Air DC-8. They were going home to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, after a six-month peacekeeping mission in the Sinai. After one stop in Germany, they landed for refueling at the Gander Airport, in Newfoundland, Canada.  Just after takeoff, the DC-8 suddenly crashed, killing 248 soldiers. Wreckage was strewn over nearly a quarter mile.

Almost immediately, a terrorist organization, Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility. But U.S. Army officials quickly dismissed the possibility of terrorist involvement. Later, a Canadian Board of Inquiry stated that ice on the plane’s wings had brought it down. 

However, four of the board’s nine members publicly disagreed, insisting that ice didn’t cause the crash. Aeronautical Engineer Les Filotas was one of the dissenting board members:

“There was certainly some kind of an explosion. A small explosion that disabled the control system. But what caused that explosion, whether it was sabotage or whether it was the accidental detonation of some kind of military equipment that was carried against regulations, we really don’t have a better idea than we had in 1988.”

To the four dissenting board members, the crash itself seemed highly irregular. Usually, in a takeoff crash, large sections of the plane remain intact, and many passengers can survive. But at Gander, according to Les, the wreckage was extremely fragmented and no one survived:

“A normal kind of take-off accident can be quite serious and can involve a fire, but basically, the aircraft isn’t completely destroyed.”

A witness saw weapons and ammo boxes

A witness saw weapons and ammo boxes

The U.S. Government strongly denied that either explosives or ammunition were carried as cargo. However, eyewitness reports from the Cairo airport contradict the government’s claim. They say that several large wooden boxes were loaded onto the airplane. Many believe the boxes contained some type of classified weapons. One of the rescue workers, Harvey Day, said he saw five wooden boxes at the Gander crash site:

“I decided to walk down to see what was in this area. And I saw five large wooden boxes.  They were black, a bit burnt from the fire, and I saw things like missiles, and little metal boxes, they looked like ammunition boxes. And it was all piled up very neatly into this cordoned off area.”

Day said he also saw an unusual pile of wreckage burning out of control. Two firefighters were trying to put it out with water:

“And the minute he took the water away, it just flared back up again. And he said, ‘We have to do this until it burns out or it cools down to the point where we can remove what’s there.”

Within weeks, Harvey and several other rescue workers began to complain of health problems. The symptoms sounded suspiciously like radiation poisoning. Robert Cox is the president of the Union of Canadian Transport Employees:

“I think we had over thirty members who described some type of malady or sickness as a result of the crash. They range from liver problems to what people thought were heart attacks, and just general illnesses. And this is what was checked out and it got to be rather scary.”

Harvey Day said he received some disturbing health news:

“When the medical reports came in, the receptionist called me. And I went to him, and I’ll never forget this, he said, ‘Harvey, how much do you drink?’  I said, ‘Pardon me?’ He said, ‘How much do you drink?’  I said, ‘I don’t drink. Why?’ He said, ‘You’ve got a liver that is equivalent to somebody who’s been drinking excessively for 20 years or more.’ I couldn’t believe what he said.”

According to one unnamed source, the U.S. government sealed its records of the crash for seventy years. However, several government agencies, including the Department of Defense and the National Transportation Safety Board, deny that any such records exist.�
Doug Phillips is the father of one of the crash victims:

“The files on the Gander incident would not be sealed for seventy years if it was simply ice. We know that there had to be something politically embarrassing that could have been very harmful to the Reagan administration that had to be covered up.”

Zona Phillips stepson died in the crash:

“As one family member put it, she wants to know if her family member died protecting this country or if he died because our government was protecting itself.”

U.S. government investigators did appear to behave strangely. For one thing, the crash site was bulldozed within three months, a highly unusual practice. The U.S. Army says it was done simply to discourage souvenir hunters. As a rule, downed airplanes are reassembled in order to study the crash. But in a highly unusual move, authorities quickly buried wreckage from the Gander site in a dump.

Dr. Douglas Phillips and his wife Zona were troubled by the official reports. Their son died in the crash and they formed an organization called Families for Truth about Gander. They requested several pieces of the wreckage and were surprised when the government actually sent them. An expert hired to analyze the scraps claimed that the edges were bent outwards, showing that a blast had occurred inside the plane. For Doug Phillips, this meant only one thing: 

“The airplane exploded in mid-air and then went down and hit the ground with a gigantic fireball when the fuel ignited. But there’s no doubt in my mind that there was a fire or explosion, while the plane was still in flight.”

Dr. Phillips turned up one final telling fact. Autopsies revealed that many of the dead soldiers had a significant amount of carbon monoxide in their bodies:

“The toxicology report showed that the victims had indeed breathed in carbon monoxide prior to the plane hitting the ground and exploding. This had to be from a detonation, a fire or explosion on board the craft.”

In 1990, Congress convened a hearing on the Gander disaster. The committee faulted the government’s investigation, but didn’t insist on a new one. The families of the soldiers who were killed at Gander have been left to wonder why and how their loved ones really died.