Plane Crash In The Baffin Islands

Baffin Island




Veteran Larry Burden sent us the following article for the information of other Veterans.






A United States Air Force C-47 en route to Frobisher Bay, NWT, January 18, transporting 12 people encountered engine problems and was forced to crash land on the ice.

Photograph of a Douglas

Photograph of a Douglas C-47 aircraft.

The pilot managed to send out a “mayday” to the nearby radar station before the plane crashed. Miraculously everyone aboard survived the crash but all twelve people had to flee the wreckage and brave the nearly 50 below zero weather because the ice beneath the plane began to breakup.

Aboard the plane was a Canadian Air Commodore, eight American Air Force personnel and three USO performers, Betty and Jean Amos and Judy Lee Schreiber. The 12 survivors huddled in a circle in a futile attempt to stay warm and waited in vain expecting to freeze to death before a rescue team could find them.

Photograph of a RCMP single engine Ottawa landing on snow with skis.

Photograph of a RCMP single engine Ottawa landing on snow with skis.

Fortunately for them RCMP pilot Robert Lorne Fletcher, Reg # 15969/O.633, flying a single engine Otter with skis was in the area and managed to locate the downed aircraft and safely landed his plane on the ice nearby. When the survivors realized that only nine of them could fit in the rescue plane and that the plane would not be able to come back until daylight the next day they refused to get aboard if they all could not be rescued then. Fletcher then piled all twelve into his plane and with American Colonel Victor Milner acting as co-pilot he revved up the engines and began taxiing in circles on ice to gather up enough speed so they could lift the severely overloaded aircraft off of the ice. As the plane lifted off they nearly crashed when one of the skis collided with an ice boulder and ripped the ski off of the plane.

Photograph of Superintendent Robert Lorne Fletcher (Reg.#15969 - O.633).

Photograph of Superintendent Robert Lorne Fletcher (Reg.#15969 – O.633).

Fletcher managed to keep the plane airborne and began circling to gain some altitude before flying ten miles to the Resolution Island radar station. As the Otter approached the air strip Fletcher realized he was going to have to make the landing of his career because the runway was very short and had a 200’ drop off at the end of it. With everyone aboard whispering prayers, he brought the plane safely home on one ski. 

On March 2, 1961, Lorne Fletcher was presented a Scroll of Appreciation from US Consul General for his courage in rescuing the twelve survivors. What did he get from the Force, nothing, nada, zip; he probably got a 1004 for breaking the plane and flying overloaded!

A follow-up to the story on the rescue of passengers and crew of a downed USAF aircraft in the NWT, it seems one of the passengers wrote and credited the USAF officers of taking over the RCMP aircraft and saving the day……she must have been a Hollywood type!

 Corps Sgt. Major Darren Campbell has revealed another mis-truth involving the rescue completed by RCMP Pilot S/Sgt. Lorne Fletcher, Reg # 15969/O.633.   Below is part of an excerpt from one of the passengers who survived the plane crash in the Arctic and was rescued by Lorne Fletcher.    It is unfortunate the author couldn’t be bothered to recognize the man who saved her life by telling the truth.   Not much chance a RCMP pilot would turn over the controls of his plane to someone else!

You can find the complete article at:

The following detail has been extracted from the official USAF Historical Report, a copy of which is on the Pine Tree Line Web site, dated January 1, 1961 to March 31 1961.

 On 18 January 1961, a C-47 with 12 people on board was Force to land approximately five miles from this station.  Among those on board were Colonel Milner, GADS commander, Air Commodore Bradshaw, RCAF, and three USO Entertainers (women).  All 12 people were rescued by Mr. Ken Dempster via Otter. We have been very fortunate to have an article that provides additional detail pertaining to this crash.   It is interesting to note that the article was written by Judy Lee Schreiber – one of the three females USO entertainers – who was on the aircraft when it crashed.

Plane Crash in the Baffin Islands, Judy Lee Schreiber, January 18, 1961

Photograph of Betty, Amos, Judy Lee and Jean Amosformed a band with her sister Jean Amos and guitarist Judy Lee in which she played banjo. Betty Amos was one of the first women to record a trucking song, "Eighteen Wheels a Rollin'," and wrote the truck-driving song "Blazing Smokestack" for the Willis Brothers. Amos's songwriting credits also include "Second Fiddle (to an Old Guitar)" (Jean Shepard); "Wonderful World" (Bonnie Owens); and "That Odd Couple" (Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn).

Photograph of Betty, Amos, Judy Lee and Jean Amosformed a band with her sister Jean Amos and guitarist Judy Lee in which she played banjo. Betty Amos was one of the first women to record a trucking song, “Eighteen Wheels a Rollin’,” and wrote the truck-driving song “Blazing Smokestack” for the Willis Brothers. Amos’s songwriting credits also include “Second Fiddle (to an Old Guitar)” (Jean Shepard); “Wonderful World” (Bonnie Owens); and “That Odd Couple” (Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn).

Betty Amos, her sister Jean and I played as a trio and went overseas to Greenland several times to entertain at Thule AF Base.   We were booked for a USO show at the radar sites in Labrador and the Northwest Territories in Canada.  

We left Goose Bay, Labrador, to play at Saglek AFS and had a great time.    The next day we were on our way to Frobisher Bay and the C-47 workhorse that we were in developed engine trouble and one engine went out.  Colonel Victor Milner was the pilot and also the Commander of Goose Bay, Labrador at the time.  

The crew opened the door and they threw out anything they could get their hands on to lighten the plane.  All of our luggage, amplifiers, instruments and anything that had any weight was heaved out of the aircraft.  I heard Colonel Milner holler back to all of us that we were going to crash land on a strip of ice that he seen.  We were going down and of course if we were to go in the ocean we would freeze in about 18 seconds. 

So the only alternative is to crash land on ice and hope for the best.  The next thing I started to sing.  I don’t know why but I was not thinking of getting killed.  We hit the strip of ice and all I could hear was the crunching of the planes belly on the ice when the landing gear collapsed.   We finally stopped.  The right wing and the tail section were damaged when we hit the side of the mountain which was solid ice.   Our radio went out right away so we couldn’t contact the Resolution Island radar site.  But – Saglek radar and Resolution Island radar both knew where the plane went down and they knew we were in real trouble.

Photograph of

Photograph of Air Commodore Doug Bradshaw.

 Following established protocol, the first thing Colonel Milner did was to turn command over to Air Commodore Bradshaw who was in the Royal Canadian Air Force.   While Air Commodore Bradshaw was equivalent in rank to a Brigadier General in the US Air Force, he requested that Colonel Milner assume command.   Aside from the three girls in our USO Troop, we had a Colonel, an Air Commodore, a Captain, a Lieutenant, four Sergeants and an airman on the plane.  The crew went outside of the plane and saw the trouble that we were in.  We were straddled against this mountain of jagged ice.  They started to collect what food and candy bars that any one of us had on them.   All of a sudden one of the crew members yelled that we had to get off the plane because the ice was cracking from the weight of the plane.   That is when it started to get really scary.   We had to start climbing up the crevices of ice to try and get to the land above.  Jean slipped and Betty and I caught her before she fell down in to a deep crevice in which there would have been no way to save her.  So God was on our side and he had his Guardian Angels watching out for all of us.

 Colonel Milner advised that it was unlikely that we would be rescued until the next day and there was no way we could last because of the cold.  It was seventy below zero.  What the men intended to do was put all the women in the middle and everyone get in a circle and try to stay warm because there wasn’t way to start a fire.

 Then we heard a plane and circled the little area where we were.  We were thankful because it was starting to get dark and we knew that we wouldn’t be alive the next day.   So it was now or never for us.   Ken Dempster was at the controls and a member of the Canadian Mounted Police was also on board.   They had a twin engine Otter with skis.   We had made a sign on the ice with red chalk saying “food” because no one was hurt at the time.   They finally landed the Otter.   They said that only nine people could go on the plane and that three would have to stay.   We knew that whoever stayed behind would not survive – so we voted to take everybody.  We were all on top of each other stuffed like sardines in a can.   They started the plane and Ken Dempster and Colonel Milner were the pilots.  Colonel Milner was called a “Dare Devil” and one of the best pilots around.   We had to go in circles to get air speed and all of a sudden Ken said “we can’t make it, we have to stop”.   Colonel Milner said “no way” and gave it all it had.   The plane hit a piece of ice and it was enough to get us airborne.  Whew!   That is when Air Commodore Bradshaw hit his head on the top of the plane and got a big goose egg.  Now we were in the air but when we hit the chunk of ice we broke one of the skis.

Now we were in another pickle!   The Resolution Island radar station was about ten miles from the airplane crash site.   It had a very short runway and we had a lot of weight plus a broken ski.  If we kept going we would go over a 200 foot cliff and of course that would have been “all shoe wrote”.   We were all saying silent prayers about that time.   We were going to land I was expecting the plane to fall apart, but we made it.   Again we were saved by heroes Colonel Victor Milner and Ken Dempster who simply would not give in.   We were all thankful that we were alive and thanked God for the Arctic gear that we had on so we wouldn’t freeze.

Photograph of Superintendent Robert Lorne Fletcher (Reg.#15969 - O.633).

Photograph of Superintendent Robert Lorne Fletcher (Reg.#15969 – O.633).





Robert Fletcher joined the Force on November 2, 1949 and served in “E”.  He became a pilot in the RCMP Air Services and served in “N”, “F”, “K”, “E”, “D”, “G” then “H” Division.  His last position was the Training Officer at “Depot” Division when he retired on November 1, 1984.  Robert passed away on May 29, 1993 and is buried at the “Depot” Cemetery.





According to RCMP Veteran George Bliss “I knew Inspector Fletcher, and the given name he used was Lorne.

A very fine man, member and pilot.

I do recall flying in the Force’s twin Otter in February 1972. I don’t know if I flew in one before that or not. MPY (Mike Papa Yankie)  was in Frobisher Bay, MPB was in Yellowknife (I think) and MPL was in Whitehorse. Can’t recall the twin in Inuvik.Also there was a single Otter MPP in Yellowknife at the same time.”

Veteran David Collard added the following comments – “Interesting story on Frobisher and the air rescue by Single Otter CF-MPF. There was no Twin Otter at Frobisher when Fletcher was i/c air detachment and I am sure he would never have handed the controls over to someone with less experience on the Otter than himself. It is always interesting how stories and get changed around over time.

Frobisher Bay Air Det was a single pilot operation until the Twin Otters replaced the singles. Then the operation was a two pilot base.
I was only Air Div pilot in Frob from Summer of 1967 to Sept 1969.

Lorne Fletcher was the 1st pilot to be based in Frobisher, then Jack Austin, followed by Roger Haddad and then myself.