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West Coast interceptor page 5


I wonder sometimes how events unfolded for Red McLaren. What was it like for him in the middle of the night, in winter, in a raging sea state? Was he injured during the ejection and unable to save himself in the water? Or did he arrive in the water uninjured, but fail to get out of the parachute? (I remember myself, much later, parachuting into the English Channel in daylight with a summer breeze blowing and nearly drowning from being wrapped up in the shroud lines of my parachute.) Or did he fail to get the seat-pack dinghy released and inflated in the appalling conditions?

Or is it possible that he did as well as Callahan and climbed into his dinghy, but without a light? And then, eventually, numbed by cold, did he slip out of the dinghy and disappear?

You can only shake your head in amazement at the miracle of John Callahan’s survival and rescue–a successful ejection without injury, a successful release of the seat-pack and inflation of the dinghy, and a successful struggle to get into the dinghy. And then after all that, finding the flashlight, the vital link to everything else John did right that night, leading to his rescue.

He never said thanks. It wasn’t expected. All of us that night, we just did our thing.

Guts for Garters
On August 18, 1958, on our first night exercise out of Ottawa with 428 Squadron, the recovery back to base had very rapidly turned into a shambles. It was about 01:00, and in a few short minutes things had changed from a no-sweat night VFR recovery at Uplands airport to a dead end of running out of fuel, airport fogged in, no radio and no approach plates. Looming was the last available option of a Martin Baker moment.

Bob Burnie and I had arrived in Ottawa on August 10 for a two-week exchange tour. RCAF CF-100 squadrons in Canada had an exchange program whereby, from time to time, a crew from Comox would trade places with a crew from one of the eight eastern squadrons. I’m sure the purpose was to make 409 feel that it was part of the same air force. Far-off North Bay, Ontario, was the closest operational CF-100 squadron. The two Comox units, 407 Maritime and 409 AW(F), were sometimes half-jokingly referred to as the Royal B.C. Air Force or the Royal Pacific Air Force.

We were really delighted to have an opportunity to fly with the highly regarded squadron, known throughout Air Defence Command to be a happy, high-spirited, effective group. By August 18, Bob and I had flown half a dozen day missions, including a Faker (target) trip to Rupert House (Waskaganish, Quebec) and back, broadcast control exercises (unsuccessful as usual) and deployment to Val d’Or. The summer weather had been perfect, and there had been no IFR recoveries.

Our first night exercise with the squadron was August 18, with takeoff scheduled for 23:00 hours. It was a beautiful summer evening, gin-clear skies and coolish, and the forecast was for it to continue all night long. This looked like it would be a piece of cake, controlled by Puritan, the Pine Tree Line radar site.

Our leader and pilot of the other crew was an old-hand 428 member. He briefed for practice AIs (airborne interceptions) at 40,000 feet, a training exercise known as bumping heads where we took turns being the target and the interceptor. After the briefing, I discovered that all my navigation charts and let-down plates were missing from my flying gear and I started rummaging around trying to find spares somewhere.

Our leader growled, “For Christ’s sake, let’s get going. It’s VFR from here to Winnipeg. You won’t need them.” Famous last words.

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