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On April 1st 1973, I reported to 439 Squadron in Baden Soellingen. I'd been married a week and the paperwork for my marriage had not caught up to me. Neither had my wife: she came a month later on May First. I was introduced to my new employment as a Mission Planner and two of my colleagues: Cpls Sweeny and Cpl Beauvais. I was apprenticing in my employment for the month of April, at the same time seeking both a car and an apartment - both of which I acquired. My wife arrived at Lahr where I met her and drove us to our first home: in Iffezhiem, near the base. As happened there was deployment with the Norwegian Air Force at Bodo Norway to which I was assigned as a Mission Planner to accompany a six-plane (CF104 Starfighter) contingent, with support personnel joining them in a C130 Herc. The deployment was meant a meet, greet and exercise with our Norwegian counterparts.
The Bodo Deployment turned out to be an unhappy experience, remembered only for its a tragic loss…I didn’t get a chance to practice any Mission Planning as I’d been originally assigned. Fortunately for the investigation, I was a qualified Administrative Clerk, long before entering the Intelligence Branch. Thus I got to know the details of the incident:
One of our pilots, Captain Rackham, age 26, single, had been having problems with psoriasis of which he and I discussed a few days previous; I remember speaking to him about a remedy my Mom had sent. Turned out he was in one of the first training missions that morning out of Bodo airfield. Suddenly, his aircraft started acting up and sputtering, a hydraulic failure, flame out, he was losing forward momentum, slowing down. The airfield was in sight and the theory was that he could see it, just a few hundred meters ahead and reckoned he could romance his ship to the runway…but he wasn’t watching his airspeed and forgot that the CF104 was a very unforgiving aircraft. He should have ejected immediately, but he delayed. Suddenly, his speed dropped below the ‘stall’ speed of 194 knots and the Starfighter began to fall. The ship nosed over, inverted and took a crashing dive into the sea. Unfortunately, the altitude was something like 500 feet and Rack couldn’t recover; he was up-side-down, possibly at a 45-degree angle when he punched out. He ejected downwards into the sea at great velocity instead up and away into the air where his chute would have opened and he could have been saved! He was killed instantly. Nevermore would ‘The Rack’ suffer psoriasis...
Major Kendrick, our boss of the deployment asked if any of us could type. I put up my hand; among our 50-man contingent, only I could type!! I’d taken more than a few typing classes. The Major declared I was now his secretary and started doing interviews with witnesses, both Canadian and Norwegians on a dicta-phone. All Pilots, all airplanes were immediately grounded, the deployment cancelled, it was time to do an investigation. Regulations required that Fuel (Avgas) be tested before anything else, then a general mechanical check of all aircraft. Interviews were lined up with everyone and anyone anywhere near the incident. Was the cause bad gas? Was there any partying the night before? Had ‘The Rack’ been drinking? Was he ailing in anyway, headaches nausea, anything? Did he have any personal problems? How did it happen, what did you hear, what was the weather like? Where were you standing, what did you see; what did it sound like? It was important to get everyone’s statements as soon as possible, while everything was fresh in mind, especially those of the Norwegian, broken English and all. At some point, Headquarters at Lahr sent a message asking whether Kendrick required a ‘real’ secretary; Kendrick said he didn’t…
They gave me a Norwegian typewriter and ordered me to ‘go to it’! Anyone who knows anything about typing realizes foreign language typewriter keys are arranged differently than English ones; it took a little getting used to the foibles of the Norwegian one. PLUS, I’d never worked with a dicta-phone before and in the first instance, I wasn’t even a secretary – I could only type and didn’t know anything about procedure! Who did? I did it anyway – my way.
After five straight days at sixteen hour days I got the thing finished. I managed a bit of brief celebratory walk-around-town when I finished, had coffee and a cup-cake someplace. Thus, was my first away mission…
The dubious distinction in this incident made Captain Rackham the first to be commemorated in the 'Highway of Heros' as it was dubbed, which is Highway 401 between Kingston and Toronto
Thank-you for this Edward....a very interesting yet sad account of one of 439's lost souls.
Are you aware that there is an unofficial face book group called 439e Escadron de soutien au combat - 439 Combat Support Squadron at https://www.facebook.com/groups/52246884562/?ref=group_header.
Would you like to join and re-post this piece there? BTW I am a monitor so no problems joining.
Tiger Tiger FOD