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Charlie Baker George: The Story of SABENA OOCBG

Charlie Baker George: The Story of SABENA OOCBG

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Charlie Baker George: The Story of SABENA OOCBG

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Lançado em:
Nov 15, 2005


Additional information from two survivors and two Sabena pilots compliment this popular bestseller. In the cold dark of an early September morning, the crew and passengers of a Sabena Airlines DC4, flight OOCBG, were brutally hurled into an experience that killed many of them and tested the strength of the survivors to incredible limits. The story of their determination to live and the masterful, courageous effort of their rescuers is a thrilling true life adventure.

In the cold dark of an early September morning the crew and passengers of a Sabena Airlines DC4, flight OOCBG, were brutally hurled into an experience that killed many of them and tested the strength of the survivors to incredible limits. The story of their determination to live and the masterful, courageous effort of their rescuers is a thrilling true life adventure.
Lançado em:
Nov 15, 2005

Sobre o autor

Frank F. Tibbo’s life has been involved with aviation. He has worked with Aviation Meteorological Services and spent most of his working life as an Air Traffic Controller. He first became aware of the mysterious crash of Sabena OOCBG while working in the Control Tower of Gander International Airport. The more he learned about flying (Commercial Pilot’s Licence in 1969), the more intriguing the case of the Sabena became. He has been a newspaper columnist since 1992 and has written more than 600 articles on his favourite subject–Aviation.

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On Wednesday, September 18, 1946, a Douglas DC4 airliner crashed. It was the biggest airline disaster up to that time. Nowadays, aircraft crashes are more common; however, the events surrounding this disaster were indeed unique. An editorial in the New York Times on September 24, 1946, said in part …the organization of their rescue, employing every device of human salvage from the most primitive to the latest and most scientific, is little short of a miracle.

Some of the more pertinent questions asked at the time concerned the mystery of why the aircraft crashed in an area where it was not supposed to be and the great quantity of diamonds, jewels and gold that disappeared. Relatives of the dead wanted to know why the victims were buried at the remote site and why exhumations were discouraged.

Newspapers all over the world carried the story of the dramatic rescue of the survivors. Journalists at the time did not know and could not find out the real story. Many stories and articles have been written about the incident; practically all are rife with errors. The purposes of writing this book are to tell the true story, to help the reader understand why the aircraft crashed, to pay tribute to some who did not receive proper recognition, and finally to tell about a man, Dr. Samuel P. Martin, III, whose name is revered by so many. The aftermath of the crash played an even more significant role in his life. Dr. Martin said: This was my first encounter with what became known as post traumatic stress syndrome.

This book is based on interviews with some of the survivors, and people involved with various aspects of the incident. A great deal of the data is based on documents, which had been confidential until the early 1990s.

This Sabena DC4 was identical to the one which crashed near Gander.


I acknowledge, with sincere thanks, the help given me while researching information concerning the Sabena crash. To interview people directly involved with the events surrounding the crash was indeed a thrill. My thanks to:

Mr. Lewis Collins, Member of one of the search parties

Mrs. Madge Cornick, Nurse who helped care for the survivors in hospital

Mr. Ferd Davis, Newfoundland Ranger at the crash scene

Mr. Jim Dempsey, Radio operator who worked, OOCBG

Mr. Clem Elms, Tower Controller who talked to OOCBG

Mr. Lloyd Jones, Customs Officer at crash scene Mr. John King, Survivor

Dr. Samuel Martin, to whom the book is dedicated Mr. Tom McGrath, Airport official involved with rescue plans

Mr. Abbott Pelley, One of two hunters first at crash site

Mr. Jean Polak, Survivor

Mrs. Isabell Rowsell, Nurse who helped care for the survivors in hospital

Mr. Bruce Shea, One of two hunters first at crash site

Mr. Jim Strong, Radio technician who helped maintain communications between airport and crash site

Mr. Rex Tilley, Chief Tower Controller, also directly involved with search

Mr. Eric Wicks, Radio technician who helped maintain communications between airport and crash site

Rev. Leonard Woolfrey, United Church Minister who officiated at aerial memorial service.

I would also like to acknowledge with thanks the assistance, advice, and technical information which I received from the following people:

Dr. Peter Blackie, past president, N.A. Aviation Museum

Bob Briggs, aircraft engineer

Bill Cornick, ex. RAF and 1946 tower controller

Eileen Elms, research helper

Captain Jan Evens, retired Check-pilot, Sabena


Rod Goff, retired aircraft dispatcher

Dave Hanrahan, retired air traffic controller

Bob Healey, former RCMP staff sergeant

Bill Kelly, retired Canadian Broadcasting Corporation producer

Ian March, retired Air Canada captain and former Squadron Leader RCAF

George MacMillan, retired meteorological officer

Ed McCarthy, retired radio operator

Joan Moss, research helper

Eric Noseworthy, former member of the Newfoundland Ranger Force

Elizabeth Powell, wife of 1946 tinsmith Graham Powell

Agnes Richard, research helper

Jean Rookx, Stewardess, the only survivor of the crew

Cy Rowsell, former RAF radio officer and former Chief ATC

Captain Claude Francoise Schreiden, retired Chief Pilot of Sabena

Bernice Singbell, daughter of Roland Pinsent

Fred Smeaton, Gander historian

Marilyn Stuckless, Ministry of Transport official

Max Thornhill, former RAF navigator and former Chief, Gander Control Tower

Luc Verstraeten, brother of the aircraft’s navigator Carl Vincent, Canadian Aeronautical Archives.

Frank F. Tibbo

Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador, 2005


Tuesday, September 17, 1946

The loud speaker at the Brussels Terminal came alive: Passengers destined for New York on Sabena Airlines are asked to board the aircraft please.

Lilly Ruppert-Lehnertz was walking briskly along the ramp. She glanced up at the giant airliner just before climbing the steps. Surely, she thought, this must be the largest aircraft in the world. Then suddenly she remembered that she would start her sixty-eighth birthday while flying in this metal giant. She hoped no one would realize that in a few hours it would be her birthday.

As Lilly entered the cabin, hostesses Jeanne Bruylant and Jean Rookx were carefully stowing away fur coats. The diamonds that adorned the female passengers flashed in the pale light of the passengers’ compartment, all testimony to the social position and financial stability of the airlines’ patrons. It was almost 3:00 p.m. Less than 24 hours from now, they were scheduled to be in New York after refuelling stops at Shannon, Ireland and Gander, Newfoundland. It was better than spending a week on a ship, even though there would be no bed that night. A feeling of excitement was evident as passengers made themselves comfortable on this luxurious airliner that had an ample supply of caviar, champagne, table linen and sterling silver.

A leather brief case consumed the attention of several diamond dealers making the trip to New York for a diamond exhibition. It was cargo too precious to trust to anyone else. It was going to stay in sight at all times.

The Sabena Airline (Société anonyme beige d’exploitation de la navigation aérienne) was established 23 years before, on May 23, 1923 as the national carrier of Belgium. Transatlantic flights were becoming more and more common and this would be the airline’s fifth crossing in as many weeks. The other four flights had gone quite smoothly and the airline would soon announce a regular flight schedule. In the meantime, this and the other four flights were classified as special.

Earlier that afternoon, the Sabena flight dispatcher who checked over the crew list noted that they had all arrived on time and were ready for the transatlantic journey. He smiled with pride as he glanced at what was indeed a most experienced group. This would be the captains third transatlantic flight and the remainder of the crew had built up many flying hours. He ticked off the seven names:

Captain, Jean Ester

Co-pilot, Alfred E. Drossaert

Navigator, L. C. John Verstraeten

Engineer, A. Fassbender

Radio Officer, Jean Dutoict

Hostess, Jeanne Bruylant

Hostess, Jean Rookx

He then checked the 37 passengers on the manifest:

l. ALSTER, Joseph


3. CAUCHIE, Georges

4. DASCOTTE, Rose M.



7. DEVOS, Walter N.

8. DUMONT, Albert A.

9. DUPONT, Franz

10. HENDERSON, Helen Ruth

11. HENRICOT, Isabelle

12. HENRICOT, Phillipe

13. KING, John

14. KRONEGOLD, Charles

15. KRONEGOLD, Selma

16. LEHNERTZ, Lilly Rupert

17. LIBEERT, Raymond

18. LIBEERT, Rene Jacquet

19. LINDENBAUM, Nathan

20. LOWENTHAL, Nelly

21. MARTIN, Suzanne

22. PAUWELS, H. W.

23. PERIER, Etienne P.

24. PERIER, Jeanne M.

25. PERIER, Marie Henriette Wianda

26. PERIER, Marie Jeanne Jacqueline Augustine

27. POLAK, Jean H.

28. REVIL, Rudy

29. REYNAERDTS, Hubert J.

30. REYNAERDTS, Louise R.

31. SCHYNS, L. G.

32. TONGLET, Leon L.

33. TONGLET, Leona


35. WANDERER, Elizabeth Kyzer

36. WILSON, Mary M.

37. WILSON, M. W.

Of the total 44 people onboard, he noted that there were four members of the Perier family. Mr. Perier was the General Manager of Sabena Airlines and was demonstrating confidence in air travel by sending his family on this transoceanic flight. The wife of the general manager, Mrs. Marie Henriette Wianda Perier, was accompanied by her three children.

The eldest daughter, Marie Jeanne Augustine, sat with her mother on the starboard (right) side of the aircraft while the other daughter, Jeanne, 16, sat across the aisle with her brother, 14-year old Etienne, on the port (left) side.

Abbott Pelley chopped a few more pieces of wood while Bruce Shea rearranged the kettle over the fire they had set just outside their tent. They talked about the chances of getting a caribou the next day. There were good signs of caribou, and they had been successful last year in the same area of Dead Wolf Pond. The weather in central Newfoundland was a little chilly for September seventeenth and Pelley piled a few more sticks on the fire.

Shortly after entering World War II, the United States Government made an arrangement with the Government of Newfoundland to lease some sites in that country for 99 years for the purposes of building military bases. One site picked by the U.S. Navy was Argentia and was called Fort McAndrew. Argentia was a good port situated on the southeast coast of the Island.

The Americans had built an airport in addition to port facilities for their ships. Several aircraft, including amphibious PBY5As, remained there after the War ended. The PBY5As weighed approximately 17 tons; the wing spread was 104 feet; maximum speed 180 miles per hour; range–a magnificent 3,100 miles, and was powered by two 1,200 horse power Pratt and Whitney engines. It carried a crew of eight and 4,480 pounds of bombs, or torpedoes, during military operations.

Captain Samuel Martin III was reading the latest medical journal. It was almost a year since the War ended and he would soon be shipped out of Argentia back to stateside. He had enjoyed his tour in Newfoundland, but looked forward to doing some more exploring. Medical research intrigued him and he wanted to find answers to all kinds of things. He sometimes thought about private practice when he got out of the service in a few months. In the meantime, it was essential to keep abreast of new discoveries in medicine.

Samuel Preston Martin III was born in the small town of East Prairie in southeast Missouri, just west of the Ohio River. His father and grandfather, who had exactly the same name, were also physicians. It seems that if you got the name, you were going to be a physician. That doesn’t necessarily follow, of course, but Martin’s family tree has more physicians than any other profession–on both sides of the family. The following example is one that may be a record. Martin’s grandmother’s grandfather, down in middle Tennessee, had seven sons. The seven sons had 17 sons. Fifteen of them became physicians and the other two druggists.

Sam Martin graduated from Washington University and interned at Barnes Hospital. He volunteered to serve his country in 1934. His first service outside the United States had been in Greenland and from there had been sent to Argentia Naval Station in Newfoundland. Many servicemen complained about the cold and the isolation in Greenland, and others complained about the fog and drizzle in Newfoundland. Captain Martin wasn’t the complaining type. He knew about the terrible conditions under which his father and grandfather had worked. If grandfather could see me now, he thought, he’d say I was in the lap of luxury and comfort. He thought of one instance when his grandfather had to swim through a swamp during a cold winter’s visit in order to get to his patient, and afterwards sleeping in a lean-to with snow beating in through the cracks.

It was fate that Martin was stationed in Argentia in September 1946. There weren’t many who would have been up to the task that lay ahead for the young captain.

In New York, Trans World Airlines Captain John Wells looked up from his newspaper and told his wife he had been reading

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