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2 RCHA Remembers MBdr Smith and Cpl Wright -20 Years Ago Today

Bruce Monkhouse

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From the RSM of 2 RCHA posted on the Artillery website.

chrisrusk said:
On 29 January, 1989, MBdr Donald Edward Smith (Airborne Gunner) and Cpl Lee Wayne Wright of 2 RCHA, along with 6 other soldiers from the Airborne Battle Group, were killed in a C130 Hercules AC crash during Exercise Brim Frost in Wainwright, Alaska.  2 RCHA will be conducting a Memorial Service at 1100 hrs on Thursday, 29 January, 2009 to commemorate the 20th Anniversary this event.  Gone but not forgotten.


For those who don't recall the incident.

The crash at Fort Wainwright

It was a long, but smooth flight for the paratroopers.

Leaving Edmonton five hours before, they were told to prepare for final approach by the flight engineer. But they didn't need to be told. The sudden drops in their stomach told the soldiers that minutes later they would be touching down on the runway and would begin their task.
Suddenly the aircraft shuddered violently beneath them. The Hercules transport slammed into a snow bank, spun out of control and the fuselage tore open, throwing the passengers from their seats.
Rescuers rushed to the last known position of the aircraft. When they arrived at the scene, survivors were struggling to pulled themselves from the wreckage. Sadly, there were no signs of life in the mangled tail section.

Twenty years ago tonight, nine Canadian servicemen lost their lives in the tragic crash of a C-130 Hercules transport at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. Among the casualties were six soldiers from Petawawa.
The Special Service Force was deploying to the most northerly American state to participate in Brim Frost, a joint Canadian-U. S. military exercise being held in the waning days of the Cold War with the Soviets. The $15 million exercise would involve 26,000 troops, 120 aircraft and 8,000 vehicles.

In the days before the first soldiers shipped out of Petawawa, tragedy had already struck the Canadian Airborne Regiment. One night, five members of 2 Commando were returning from Ottawa when their car was struck by a semi tractor trailer on Highway 17 near Arnprior. Cpl. Keith Russell, Trooper Mark Cameron, Trooper Shawn Hilliker, Trooper Joseph Ross and Trooper Brian Thompson were killed instantly.

On the night of Jan. 29, 1989, three Hercules aircraft carrying troops and equipment approached Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks, Alaska. The first Hercules landed without incident at the airfield. Then at 6:47 p. m., air traffic controllers lost contact with the second plane. The tower did not receive a distress call, indicating all was normal with the flight.

There was a thick fog over the airfield that evening. The Hercules struck the snowbank 600 feet short of the runway. After the plane broke in half, Capt. Mike Jorgensen recalled climbing out from the wreckage with a broken ankle and a cut ear.
"Everything was so normal," Jorgensen would recount later. "Then, we hit hard and spun around. There were screams. Then I guess I blacked out. When I came to I remember I was just scrambled. There was some screaming and moaning. My foot was crushed. I remember falling out the door, or maybe it was part of the fuselage that had opened up."

The third Hercules was diverted to the Fairbanks airport after the control tower was informed of the crash. Of the eight crewmen and 10 paratroopers aboard the Hercules, there were only nine survivors. Five were critically injured including Jorgensen (who would go on to command the 3rd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment),Trooper Sylvain Chenard and Trooper Stephan Poulin.

The losses to the Canadian Airborne Regiment were Warrant Officer Joseph Arsenault, 33, Master Cpl. John MacKinnon, 35, Cpl. Robert Allen, 24, and Cpl. Paul McGinnis, 24. Master Bombardier Donald Smith, 28 and Cpl. Lee Wright, 26, from the 2nd Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, were also killed.
Three other servicemen from CFB Edmonton perished in the crash: Navy Lieut. Richard Moore, 37, Cpl. Joseph Paul-Emile Castouguay, 36, and Master Cpl. Louis Papineau-Couture, 40, who died in a Fairbanks hospital a few days later.

The exercise was immediately cancelled while four Hercules with 450 paratroopers remained on the ground at Edmonton.
Meanwhile, the community was shocked by news of the disaster. Flags were flown at half mast on all government buildings including Pembroke city hall. A moment of silence was observed at the Valley Bowl in Petawawa. The tragedy had hit close to home for one Pembroke family, as John MacKinnon was born and raised in the area.

A week later, 1,500 gathered for a special memorial service at Dundonald Hall. Among the members of the public and soldiers in attendance were dignitaries including MP Len Hopkins and MPP Sean Conway, and representatives from the British and American militaries. The service was conducted by Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. In front of an altar were wreaths for each of the six soldiers.

Brig.-Gen. Ian Douglas, commander of the Special Service Force, addressed the service saying the exercise called Brim Frost played a crucial role in the joint defence of North America.
"The deaths, which we are grieving, not only demonstrate the frailty of human life but also the fact that training for the defence of our continent, which many in this country take for granted, can extract the supreme sacrifice from our young soldiers and airmen," said the commander.

"It is in such tragic times as this that the true family spirit, about which we so often speak, manifests itself. Over the last week or so I have seen outpourings of sympathy and concern, coupled with very positive actions which have made me feel very warm and proud indeed. Yes, it hurts and no, we will not forget them but will use their memory as an inspiration for the future."

The six soldiers who fell at Fort Wainwright have not been forgotten. Today, 2 Field Ambulance's headquarters on Montgomery Road is named the Warrant Officer Keith Arsenault Building. Many of the names of the lost also appear on plaques in the Home Fires Park, including Master Cpl. John MacKinnon.

Lest We Forget.
Though not a gunner, I also remember Cpl Bob Allen, a Sup Tech who had worked for me in the Airborne QM 1986-87. He was part of the advance party that had deployed to Fort Wainwright. I always have felt a bit responsible for his death as he came to see me one day in 1986 as a keen and eager 911 TQ 4 qualified Pte posted to CMED, but he wanted to go Airborne Supply. Jumper 911s being scarcer than hen's teeth I made the phone call to the Mangler and got him posted that summer, shortly before we deployed to Cyprus along with MCpl MacKinnon, who was a superb Admin Clerk.   Then Tpr Allen stayed on rear party, got his wings and settled into the Regt while we were in Cyprus. I was posted to Ottawa in summer 87.

I remember when this happened as I was on a tasking to Borden in sp of the Staff College, and I phoned the QM to confirm the Allen was "ours". Sadly that was the case. An indication of his smarts as a recently promoted Cpl was the fact he was being deployed in the adminsitrative advance party as the sole QM rep.

End of tasking sped home, grabbed my CF's and headed to Pet for the memorial, which also was for five 2 Cdo soldiers killed on Hwy 17 that same week. I always wondered how his widow Yvette made out with two young kids-she was also a 911. I had to delay my arrival in Edmonton for a year with the Skyhawks until the very last minute, but ended up saying screw it and wore my maroon beret anyways as my tasking had started the day of the memorial.

As a postscript I ran into  a classmate from RMC a couple of months later at the AMU in Edmonton and having not seen him in some years asked how things were-WRONG question as he was taking his release and supposedly going to fly with civy air somewhere, as he was the pilot in command of the Herc. I thought he was going to cry. Felt bad about that.

RIP Bob, you had a great future ahead of you.  Blue skies.
20 years ago today I was a 19 y/o medic stationed at Ft. Wainwright.
That day will last my lifetime.
I remember getting the call for a mascal.
It was a day off for me and I was having dinner with a friend and his newly arrived family, pot roast I remember distinctly.
My friend, James, lived about 2K outside of the Fort.
It was frigid, the number -46, doesn't convey the cold, nothing can.
visibility was zero on the ground, ice fog was as thick as I'd ever seen it.
We arrived at our station, got our assignments and off we went in our own directions.
I have no idea what James did that day.
I did recovery and identification of those KIA.
I was the only uniformed person working alongside CID.
CID is the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Division.
I worked with men in jeans, street clothes, poorly shaven with shaggy hair.
I'm beginning to ramble.
To be concise.
This has been a lonely day for me for twenty years, half my life.
I've had no other vets I could talk with about this because I was the only one there.
I'm glad I found this forum.
I'm put at peace knowing that these men are honored to this day.
Know too that they are honored thousands of miles away.
I would also like to put out a blessing and prayer for Capt. Jorgensen whom I distinctly remember as I also took care of the survivors in the days following the accident.
The pain and anguish were visible in his eyes after the crash and it had nothing to do with his physical wounds.
I remember much more of course but perhaps it's best it stay with me alone.

Prayers and Thanks to all who have and do serve in the Canadian Armed Forces.
I knew WO Arsenault. He used to own the coolest red over white 1955 Chev sedan (or was at a 1956 Ford Crown Vic sedan. Can't remember). Had to believe this tragedy is 20 yrs ago already.

Time waits for no one.


EDIT: After picturing those tail lights in my mind's eye over and over, it was a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria.

Tonight, I'll have to raise a few hits of my Uncle Ronnie's Saskatchewan fair-dinkum, ridgy-didge-true-blue moonshine (95%/190p) mixed with some orange-mango juice.
I was a fresh Trooper, less than a full year in yet, in Petawawa and awaiting doing our month of Cyprus predeployment training during these 2 weeks in Jan 89.

I lived in the old quarters behind the Canex (where the gym overflow parking is now) and overlooking the church parking lots. I remember well the slew of memorial services and funerals that followed. I saw the grieving families. I saw the processions.

That was the week I realized that people really can and do die doing this job.

The new 2 Fd Amb building is dedicated to WO Arsenault.
I was with CAR at the time in the QM and Bob Allen was a good friend,  I had just got back from Iraq and was sitting in Edmonton getting the troops off,  I will certainly be hoisting a few tonight in memory of all who lost their life that night
Ditto Steve.

And thanks USvetAK89, I have thought about this over time as well, poor Bob should have stayed in CMED counting stock, but it was not what he wanted to do in the Army.  It was a hellish kickoff to an otherwise great year!

Ft McMurray, Alberta

You know as well as I do that Bob would not have been happy, he loved the Airborne Regiment and all that went with it.  Story about Bob,  when I was in Iraq I met an irish girl who is now my wife,  I hadn't told my parents but mike Fingas had mentioned it in a call to the QM, Bob was buying a wooden chest from my father for Yvette for Xmas and you know he couldn't keep a secret so next phone call home I had alot of explining to do.

Last I saw Yvette was around '94 in Edmonton and she had her house up for sale
This is the small cairn in front of the building in 2 RCHA’s lines that’s named after MBdr Don Smith

We will remember them

Ex coelis


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Thirty years. I remember that sad time well. A bunch of us were talking about it yesterday on the Airborne FB page. RIP .
Hi I’m the youngest daughter of master corporal John William MacKinnon. If any of you guys knew him or know people who knew of him. Or have photos of the memorial this article claims has my dads name. I never got to know him as I was only 5 months when he died and I only get stories from my mom. If anyone would help me out. That would be great