Banting Saga




Banting's Mysterious Death part II

by Frank Tibbo

Was Banting's Death an Accident?

In February 1941 Canada's first Nobel Prize winner died in the woods ten miles from Musgrave Harbour. Many have questioned whether his death was an accident or the result of sabotage.

Captain Mackey was hoping that, despite the darkness, he would see something on which to make the crash landing. He knew Newfoundland had a lot of lakes and he might be lucky. He wasn't lucky enough. The rough landing, at 9:25 p.m. in the black In winter night, knocked Mackey unconscious. Crewmembers Snailham and Bird were killed on impact and Banting suffered severe head injuries. [The autopsy stated that a fractured rib punctured his left lung.]

When Mackey regained consciousness he revived Banting, but the severe injuries had rendered the physician delirious. By noon on Saturday (21st), Banting had fallen into deep unconsciousness. Mackey decided to search for help, and set off. He soon knew he wasn't getting anywhere in the deep snow and followed his tracks back to the aircraft. When he reached the aircraft he discovered Banting had got out of the aircraft and had died face down in the snow.

Security at Gander

The National Archives in Ottawa contains hundreds of documents concerning IRA and Nazi sympathizers in Newfoundland and eastern Canada. One letter warned officials at Gander that the chances of sabotage were increasing and "it is requested that you will do all you can to guard against it." An excerpt from another letter: "The important sabotage targets in Newfoundland, Gander and St. John's, are both fairly accessible from the sea and not a great distance apart."

At a civilian enquiry an airport worker said that the fuel and oil supplies were secure. In retrospect one would have to wonder how valid that statement was. Months later the security of gasoline was still being questioned by government officials.

An airport official stated in a memo to the Newfoundland government, "The petro is stored in the open and the possibility of sabotage is present." Once the fuel was put in the Hudson the possibility of sabotage increased. Airport engineer Jerome Coulombe in charge of checking the aircraft for mechanical safety testified at the civilian enquiry, "To my knowledge, there was no special guard put on this machine." He added, "I can't say whether the machine was in the hangar the first night it arrived or not."

The enquiry also determined that mechanical checks were performed on the Hudson and determined the Hudson was airworthy, HOWEVER, no one signed the inspection sheet and no certificate of airworthiness was completed.

The civilian enquiry found so many holes in airport security that Canadian Pacific Railway, contracted to manage the ferry operation, hired a new maintenance superintendent and reorganized its inspection system.

Banting seemed concerned with the lack of security. He wrote in his diary, "An agent could certainly play the devil with the final checking, the hangar is overcrowded and planes have to be left outside and there is continual moving of planes."

Newfoundland Airport was an ideal place for sabotage and Banting presented a prominent target for Nazi sympathizers.

Why Banting Travelled on the Hudson

It did not seem that anyone considered it worthwhile to keep confidential the fact that Canada's Nobel Prize winner was rushing to England on a Hudson Bomber. Banting was one of the very few people in Canada important enough to hitch a ride on a ferry plane. On January 31, 1941, Air Marshall A.A.L. Cuffe, made the necessary arrangements. The fastest way to England was by air and the Hudson was chosen because several were scheduled to be ferried.

Why the Nazis Would Want to Eliminate Banting

First of all, Banting was a Nobel Prize winner, an influential physician and scientist. An illustration of his influence came after he addressed a group in London concerning the fact that Germany had 80 decompression chambers, critical to aviation research, while Canada had one. Within 37 days Londoners had raised enough money to deliver a decompression chamber to the University of Western Ontario. Secondly, as Mackenzie King, the Prime Minister of Canada, said at the time, Banting's trip was of high "scientific importance" in the war against the Nazis. Banting had served in World War I and had seen the effects of mustard gas. It was because of this experience that he became involved in scientific research concerning poison gas.

The Civilian Inquiry

Magistrate Malcolm Hollett conducted a civilian inquiry shortly after the crash. The inquiry revealed flaws in the security at Newfoundland Airport and determined the cause of death. In Banting's case it was attributed to concussion and shock. That inquiry did not examine why the engines failed. That was left to the military.

Banting's Mysterious Death part III


As published in the Gander Beacon and written by Frank Tibbo


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