The Maple Leaf
Vol. 15, Issue 08
Family visits CF pilot's crash site 45 years later
Group Captain Cole (second from left) during a ground-breaking ceremony at CFB Chatham, N.B. in 1959.
Jake Cole of Ottawa and Cathy Lane of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania view the wreckage of a Royal Canadian Air Force Sabre aircraft. Group Captain William Cole, their father, was killed when the aircraft crashed 45 years ago near Mount Carleton, N.B.
Photo: T. MacLaughlan
By: Capt K.N. Anderson
After 45 years of waiting, Cathy Lane of Pennsylvania and Jake Cole of Ottawa finally got the chance to visit the site where their father, Group Captain (G/C) William Robert Cole, was killed in a plane crash.
G/C Cole was only 44 years old when the F-86 Sabre he was flying went down in northern New Brunswick during a low-level solo navigation mission in October 1967.
“I was a student at the Sabre Transition Unit at the time,” recalled General (Ret) Paul Manson, former Chief of the Defence Staff. “I was flying the same mission that morning. About 10 of us, including Group Captain Cole, were assigned to fly the same low-level cross-country navigation training mission, spaced at 10 minute intervals. I was next in line behind him.”
It wasn’t possible to reach the heavily wooded crash site in 1967. Recent logging operations in the area have made the location accessible and there was concern the site could be destroyed. This concern led to an investigation of the site by staff of the New Brunswick Military History Museum, the CFB Gagetown environmental officer and an archaeologist with the province of New Brunswick.
Captain Kevin Anderson, the Director of the Military History Museum, had been keeping the family members informed of progress at the site for several months and they indicated their deep desire to visit the site if the opportunity arose.
Ms. Lane and Mr. Cole were taken out to the crash site and spent a couple hours walking around and viewing what remained of their father’s downed aircraft.
“I feel a sense of completion – closure, I guess,” said Mr. Cole. “You’ve all helped us to complete a missing part of our family’s history. It was both a thrilling moment for us and a moment to reflect, one that will be long remembered.”
G/C Cole flew in Coastal Command during the latter part of the Second World War and after a brief break to complete university studies, he returned to serve with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
After receiving his aeronautical engineering post-graduate degree in London, England in 1958, he worked on the Avro Arrow weapons program at Air Force Headquarters. He served in a number of other staff jobs before taking over as the Commander of CFB Chatham, N.B. in 1966. While there, he flew a Golden Hawk F-86 Sabre to Chatham from Trenton, Ont. so it could be mounted in front of the Base Recreation Centre as part of the local Centennial celebrations. “Golden Hawk Day” was established on September 17, 1967 to pay tribute to the famous aerobatic team formed in Chatham in 1959. G/C Cole was the last Canadian airman to die in an F-86 Sabre crash as the plane was retired the next year.