'We thought we were definitely going to perish': Remembering Argus crash 40 years later

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'We thought we were definitely going to perish': Remembering Argus crash 40 years later

Carl Delaney will always remember where he was on March 31, 1977.

The young master warrant officer in charge of the military police at CFB Summerside had just returned from lunch, when an emergency call came into the base.

A 415 Squadron Argus carrying 16 crew members had lost one of its engines five hours into its flight, and was going to attempt an emergency landing.

The weather that day was very poor — with thunder, lightning, heavy rains and strong winds.

'We were going to die today'

As the Argus made its final approach, a strong gust of wind pushed the aircraft to one side. It clipped a snowbank throwing it off course.

The plane was now heading straight towards the tower and Delaney.

"I was thinking the same thing as my driver, who said 'We're going to die today,'" explained Delaney. "Then it all happened after that. We watched as it came in and lo and behold, we just saw nothing but the body. We thought we were all going to perish that day."

At the last possible moment, the pilot was able to manoeuvre the Argus in order to avoid hitting the airport's observation tower.

It struck a plane on the runway before bursting into flames.

'It was like slow motion'

Gerard Ginson, was a 21-year-old graduate of firefighting school in 1977, with just 13 months experience, when he answered the call that day.

"When that Argus came and when she was going trying to get back up, it was like slow motion," he shared. "It was like you were just looking and looking, and we turned around and we started chasing the aircraft trying to find out where she was going. That's what you do. I'll never forget it."

The Argus continued down the taxiway with a ball of fire following it. It hit a roadway, then split open before coming to rest in some grass.

One person was killed at the scene. Two others later died in hospital of their injuries, with 13 crew members surviving the crash.

'I wouldn't be here today'

Delaney said the number of fatalities would have been higher had the pilot not made the decision to steer the plane away from the tower and a school directly behind it. 

"If he had hit the tower or even the top of the tower, I wouldn't be here today, " he said.  "A lot of other people wouldn't be here. So, although three lives were lost that day, multi-lives were saved."

"It was something that you just don't forget," added Ginson. "Every year when this occurs, every year when the 31st of March occurs, a little after one you think about this all the time because there were three people who died at the scene and it could have been a lot worse."

Forty years have passed since the accident. Delaney and Ginson said while it's still difficult to talk about the events of March 31, 1977, it's important to remember those who lost their lives.

"Just because it happened that many years ago, you just don't stop thinking about that," said Ginson. "You don't stop thinking about it."

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