Banting Saga




Banting's Mysterious Death part I

by Frank Tibbo

In February 1941 Gander airport was the operations centre for a massive aerial search. The Royal Canadian Air Force had diverted some of its Digby Bombers from regular submarine patrol to search for a missing Hudson, and Ferry Command had made the unprecedented decision to dispatch Hudson Bombers from their Headquarters at Montreal to aid in the search. The reason for all the concern was the passenger on the missing Hudson. Ted Henley, [Henley Place, Gander] former RAF pilot, who worked in Gander with American Overseas Airlines and Pan American Airlines picks up the story:

"Three days earlier, Major Sir Frederick Banting of the Royal Canadian Medical Corps arrived Gander on a Hudson aircraft T-9449 en route to England. He was engaged in a special medical research for the air force and since he was engaged in such a mission of extreme importance he was flying to England on this Hudson being delivered by ATFERO the Atlantic Ferry Organization, forerunner of the Royal Air Force Transport Command. He was the second man to be so carried on an Atlantic ferry. Sir Frederick Banting had arrived Gander on February 17, 1941. About thirty minutes after departure the aircraft requested a bearing from Gander. After that time nothing further was heard from him. Routine was carried on as usual at Gander and no one thought more of T-9449 carrying its crew and its important passenger, one of the greatest and most revered scientists in Canadian medicine.

"In wartime with its secrecy and its ordered dispatch aircraft landed and took off again, mere official numbers with impersonal crews. However, when the aircraft failed to arrive at its destination on schedule, routine again took over and a search was organized from Gander to cover the area between the airport and the coast. Weather conditions were unfavourable but the next morning three Royal Canadian Royal Air Force Digbys stationed at Gander carried out a search. The following day they were joined by Hudson aircraft dispatched from Montreal to aid them. The Royal Canadian Air Force provided additional aircraft and an intensive search was carried out for three days over the snow-covered and often desolate terrain of trees and small ponds. At last, on February 24th, a Hudson, piloted by Captain Allison reported finding the wreckage 40 miles north-east of the airport and ten miles inland from Musgrave Harbour. On flying over the scene one man was seen to be alive and he tramped out in the snow the message: "THREE DEAD" and signed it: "JOE".

"Joseph Mackey was the pilot of Hudson of T-9449 for which they were searching. Food and supplies were dropped and the message was dropped: MUSGRAVE HARBOUR, REQUESTING A GROUND PARTY TO PROCEED TO THE SCENE". Some trappers who were close by were attracted to the scene by the search aircraft. The survivor, Captain Mackey, pilot of Banting's aircraft, was then taken to Musgrave Harbour by dog team.

"The other occupants of the downed Hudson, Pilot Officer Byrd, Royal Air Force, the navigator, and Radio Officer Snailham and their passenger, Sir Frederick Banting, were all dead. Their bodies were brought to Musgrave Harbour that same evening. Flight Lieutenant Irwin, the Royal Canadian Air Force Medical Officer at Gander, was flown to Musgrave Harbour on February 26th to attend to Captain Mackey's injuries. Subsequently the survivor and the unfortunate victims were flown back to Gander on February the 28th and the bodies were later flown by Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft to Canada for burial.

"Now what happened on that snowy overcast day which snuffed out these three lives. What cruel mischance of weather or mechanical failure had taken from the world a man whose genius had prolonged the lives of so many diabetics, and whose devotion and skill had helped thousands and would doubtless have benefited thousands more were he to have continued his research. The story of the crash obtained from Captain Mackey was briefly as follows: The aircraft developed engine trouble shortly after passing over the coast and Mackey decided to return to Gander. He was unable to maintain altitude and as it was snowing at the time he instructed his crew and passenger to don their parachutes and abandon the aircraft. After allowing them sufficient time to do so he attempted to carry out a forced landing on one engine despite the snow storm and the darkness. He had instructed the crew and passenger to bail out previously because he considered the forced landing operation too dangerous to risk the lives of the other occupants of his aircraft. The aircraft did a belly landing in the snow but hit a large rock with the port wing and was badly wrecked. Mackey was unconscious for several hours. On regaining consciousness he was horrified to find that his passenger and crew had not abandoned the aircraft as instructed and were still aboard. The crew members were already dead and Sir Frederick Banting was severely injured and unconscious. Sir Frederick died two days later.

"Captain Mackey returned to flying several months after the accident."

Banting's Mysterious Death part II


As published in the Gander Beacon and written by Frank Tibbo


top return to top