A Brief History
On December 12, 1985, the US Army experienced one of its worst non-combat tragedies in its history when 236 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division were killed in the crash of Arrow Flight 1285.
The DC-8 carrying the soldiers plus 20 civilians (8 of which were crew members) was returning the soldiers to the US from duty in Egypt. The plane had made an interim stop at Gander, Newfoundland and was attempting to take off when it lost speed and stalled, crashing about a half mile past the runway and killing all aboard.
The soldiers had been serving with a multinational United Nations peace keeping contingent in the Sinai and were due to return to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, their home base, after a 6 month tour.
Investigation revealed the probable cause of the crash as icing on the wings and an underestimation of the weight of the aircraft with its load. Alternate theories include a bomb on board the plane. The investigating committee voted 5 to 4 in favor of icing as the main problem, stating weather conditions were ideal for the formation of ice on the plane and that the jet had not been deiced before takeoff. The board further stated that inadequate takeoff speed due to miscalculation of weight or due to decreased thrust from 1 of the 4 jet engines contributed to the tragedy. The dissenting votes relied on witnesses that claimed they saw a bright glow from the plane prior to crashing, possibly because of an onboard explosion or fire.
Unfortunately, the “black box” (actually Cockpit Voice Recorder) was apparently not working properly and failed to record the final conversation of the pilots. The same day as the crash Islamic Jihad, a branch of the terrorist group Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the crash.
Whether a tragic accident or an act of terror, the crash of the chartered DC-8 resulted in the highest death toll of any airplane crash in Canadian history, and a terrible way for brave and dedicated soldiers to die. In 1989 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the evidence did not support either conclusion.
Question for students (and subscribers): What do you think really happened? Give us your thoughts on this tragedy in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Fatal plane crash in Gander, Newfoundland, December 12, 1985 : hearings before the Subcommittee on Crime of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of … 4 and 5, 1990 (SuDoc Y 4.J 89/1:101/147). U.S. G.P.O., 1991.