October 3, 1905 - September 5, 1942
Albert Redfearn Schlacks, born at Mount Vernon, New York, USA, was the son of Joseph Theodore Schlacks, manufacturer, and Bertha Anne (nee Redfearn) Schlacks (1875-1942) of Michigan; brother of Joseph Theodore Schlacks, Jr. (1904-1939), Charles Henry Schlacks, and Josephine Redfearn Kaul. Albert noted one of his brothers, Joseph, had dementia and died of pneumonia. The family was Roman Catholic.
In October 1930, Albert, was commended for being part of a rescue of Army flyers near the Hawaiian Islands. (See article above.). According to a newspaper article, Albert had served in the United States Navy as an aviation pilot, first class, for six years, enlisting in the RCAF in 1940. Albert indicated he served with the US Navy. “Naval Aviation Pilot, Pensacola, Florida, June 1928 – May 1929, 232 hours, one and two, land and water. 1929-1930: 320 hours. Total flying time: 575 hours, student pilot. No. S76380.” Albert was at NAS Pearl Harbour in 1930. He wrote “Time Up” for reason of termination of last Service engagement. He performed “upkeep of aircraft.”
Albert was the husband of Isabelle Capp Schlacks, of Morenci, Michigan. They married at Hudson, Michigan on July 3, 1933. He had children: Robert Henry Schlacks, Mary Margaret-Anne Schlacks, Joseph Theodore Schlacks, Alberta Josephine Schlacks, plus two stepchildren, Marie Annette and Edward Rathwell Kestelle, ranging in age from 8 months to fourteen years of age.
Albert had been working in Adrian, Michigan for Magnesium Fabricators, makers of part for airplane motors for two years, operating a band saw prior to enlistment in October 1940. Prior to that he had five other positions in manufacturing from 1931-1940. He noted eight years of farming experience. He hoped to remain in the RCAF after the war. His hobbies included hunting and flying, plus target practice. He liked to play football, basketball, and did track at school. He smoked twenty cigarettes a day and drank one quart of beer a week. “Athletic, alert. Mole between shoulders; scar index finger left hand and 3rd finger right hand. Tattoo of a bird right forearm. Good man.” He had blood poisoning at one point. Albert noted his birth year as 1905, but Isabelle noted it as 1903.
On the PERSONAL HISTORY REPORT dated November 10, 1940: “Worth $1500, annual income $1600. He was regarded as competent in his work and was well regarded by this employer and had a good record…He was married and lived at the same address in a good section in a small town about 20 miles from Adrian. He had a wife and four children dependent and was well regarded as to habits and associates and was regarded as a man of good character. He was neat in appearance and well regarded. NOTE: We have not been able to identify the applicant in the old Detroit directories and we are not able to obtain information directly through the Dodge plant or the Briggs Mfg Co. Both firms due to their size refuse to divulge information.”
Albert went to CFS, Trenton, Ontario, November 2, 1940, then was sent to No. 1 ANS, Rivers, Manitoba. From there, he was at No. 5 BR Squadron, Dartmouth, NOS, then No. 116 Squadron, Dartmouth, then moved with the squadron to Botwood, Newfoundland. December 7, 1940: “This officer is employed as a staff pilot at No. 1 ANS. He has been with the school only a few days and it is impossible to make a fair judgment of his ability. May 14, 1941: An average staff pilot whose conduct has been satisfactory. June 13, 1941: Employed as staff pilot in this school for six months. Easy-going temperament and pleasing personality. Has had experience with US Navy Air Service. His services have been satisfactory. An American citizen. December 7, 1941: “An American citizen originally engages as pilot at No. 1 ANS, Rivers. Hs had varied experience in US Forces. A good pilot but weak in navigation, BR work, etc. A large family cause financial difficulties. Would be better in Tow Target Flight at this station. Careless of his appearance, inclined to be lazy, but useful because of his experience. No. 116 BR Squadron. June 16, 1942: This officer is a hard working pilot. Has completed a total of 463 hours operational flying Jan 1 to May 31. He now holds rank of F/L Acting. Fit for promotion. No. 116 BR Sqn.”
Aboard Catalina Z2140 were F/L Albert Redfearn Schlacks, RCAF, and F/S Glen Andrew Soeder, RCAF. “116 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron, Botwood, Newfoundland. Catalina aircraft missing. Catalina aircraft Z2140 was taxiing at Battle Harbour, Labrador when it exploded. F/L A.D. Schlacks, F/S Soeder, and a civilian, John F. Cosgrove, were killed. The remainder of the crew, P/O R.C. McAdam, navigator, FS D.G. Selby, WAG, Sgt T.L. Whettell, WAG, Cpl. F.J. Kontzie, Flight Engineer survived and were reported to be in the Hospital at Battle Harbour. The hospital was the Hudson Bay Store Manager's quarters. The aircraft had flown to Battle Harbour carrying civilians, Mr. W. H. Durrell, McNamara Construction Co. Superintendent, Mr. W. H. Reid, McNamara Construction Accountant, carrying $7000 in payroll, Mr. E. Snelling, McNamara Construction, and Jack Cosgrove, Dept. of Transport Accountant. These civilians were involved with the construction of a Wireless Station for the Navy. [NOTE: Sgt. T.L. Whettell survived the sinking of the steamship Caribou in October 1942.]
Isabelle was living in Chester, Nova Scotia at the time of the accident. She had resided in Rivers, Manitoba when Albert was stationed there.
The full Court of Inquiry for Catalina Z2140 can be found on Microfiche C5939, Image 723.
OBJECT OF FLIGHT: Aircraft was on detached duty on instructions from No. 1 Group Headquarters St. John’s, Newfoundland. This particular flight authorized by aircraft Captain in accordance with general instructions. Routine A/S patrol. DESCRIPTION OF FLIGHT: Catalina Z2140 was sent from RCAF Station, Botwood, for detached operations at Goose Bay. At the time the station at Goose Bay which was under development, had no operations control set-up. The captain of the aircraft was therefore responsible for the operations carried out in accordance with instructions issued by the ground controller at St. John’s, Newfoundland enclosed here with our two copies of the proceedings in the above-mentioned accident. The AOC further pointed out several discrepancies in certain errors and omissions in the proceedings but stated that as so much time has elapsed since the date of the accident, it was thought better to send the proceedings on as they were. The aircraft had been set aside for a live depth charge exercise. At the last minute, the training exercise was cancelled as the aircraft was ordered to Goose Bay for operations. Flight Lieutenant Schlacks, pilot and captain, Sergeant Soedel, co-pilot, a navigator, two WAGS and a flight engineer made-up the crew. At Goose Bay, the captain of the aircraft offered to take four civilian passengers to Battle Harbor, Labrador, as the aircraft was to do an A/S patrol which would take it past Battle Harbor. There was no other transportation available for the civilians. The trip of the civilians was for the purpose of making an inspection of work being done by the McNamara Construction Company at Battle Harbor. The passengers also took along some electrical equipment. Mr. Reid, an accountant of the company, who took along $7000 in cash to pay the men at Battle Harbor, all of which was lost according to the statement of Mr. Reid. This job at Battle Harbor was originally for the Canadian Navy but Mr. Reid understood later that it was for the U S Navy. No waivers were obtained from the civilians.”
Court assembled at RCAF Station, Gander on 9-9-42 and took the evidence of three witnesses in Station Hospital. Court proceeded to Botwood on 10-9-42 and took the evidence of four witnesses. Since L.14 of this a/c was destroyed in the accident, inquiries were made as to Daily Inspection made prior to departure of a/c for Goose Bay on 2-9-42 and it was ascertained that the regular D.I. armament was not made. Court proceeded on 11-9-42 to Goose Bay and the evidence of three witnesses was taken. From inquiries made, it was ascertained no D.I. Armament was made at Goose Bay (there are no armourers – bombs - there) and no water guard was maintained over the a/c while there from 2-9-42 to 5-9-42. The Court reassembled in December 1942 and January 1943, thus the two sets of witnesses.
FIRST WITNESS: P/O Raymond Clarence McAdam, J10327, Observer, No. 116 Squadron, RCAF Station, Botwood, Newfoundland: “Catalina Z2140 of said station was put on detachment to Goose Bay, Labrador, and remained there until 5-9-42. At 1100 ADT, this aircraft took off from Goose Bay with F/L Schlacks as pilot, Sgt. Soeder as co-pilot, and myself as navigator, two WOAGs, one flight engineer and four civilian passengers with Battle Harbour as our destination. At about 1415 ADT, a landing was made at Battle Harbor -- this was a good tail down landing, the water was quite choppy. The aircraft taxied towards the shore and then in circles waiting for a boat to come out. While the aircraft was circling to port at about 20 knots, the two WOAGS went up to the nose. Mr. Durrell was in the second pilot seat, Sgt. Soeder was sitting in the WT operator’s desk in the navigator’s compartment. I walked back to the blister to help the engineer with putting out the drogues. With me, in the blister were Mr. Cosgrove, Mr. Snelling, Cpl Kontzie, Mr. Reid, when there was a violent explosion which threw me into the water and then I was washed back into the aircraft again. This explosion seemed to take place about under the centre of the aircraft; a few seconds later there was a second explosion. I went underwater and when I came up, the starboard wing was on fire and part of the port. I climbed on to the port wing and in about a minute or so a boat took me off. When I was in the boat on route to shore, there was another violent explosion. I did not smell any gasoline or other fumes in the aircraft. I did not see any depth charges fall off before the first explosion. The pilot and co-pilot were in their proper seats when the aircraft landed.”
SECOND WITNESS: Cpl Fred James Kontzie, Flight Engineer. “On September 9th, 1942, I was flight engineer on Catalina Z2140 when it took off from Goose Bay at about 1100 hours for Battle Harbor. The aircraft made a good stall landing at Battle Harbor at about 1430 in fairly rough sea. While taxiing in circles to port waiting for a boat to come out from shore, I was standing in port blister and there was a violent explosion. It seemed to be near the centre of the aircraft and the aircraft seemed to come up off the water. A few seconds later, there was another similar explosion. I did not notice any fumes in the aircraft before the first explosion, in fact the blisters and my engineer’s compartment windows had been opened up just after we landed and we had been taxiing for about 10 or 15 minutes. I was looking to the rear of the aircraft, watching my drogue prior to the explosion and did not notice the depth charges on the wing. I climbed out and when I came to the surface, I saw the starboard wing on fire. Shortly afterwards a boat picked me up and while still near the aircraft, there was another explosion in a lot of black smoke aircraft sank. While this aircraft was at Goose Bay, nothing was done to armament as far as I know, there are no armourers on Catalinas at Goose Bay.”
THIRD WITNESS: Sgt. Thomas Floyd Whettell, WAG: “I was the second WOAG on Catalina Z2140 which had taken off from Goose Bay at about 1100 hours. The aircraft landed at Battle Harbour at about 1400 hours; it was a very good landing. We opened up the front hatch and the blisters were also opened, after taxiing for about 10 minutes, there was an explosion and the aircraft seemed to lift out of the water. It was a dull explosion. A few seconds later there was another explosion similar to the first. The explosion seemed to be under the navigator’s compartment. The aircraft was circling to the left at the time. I crawled along the top of the hull which was almost underwater to the wing. F/S Selby and I tried to pull the pilot out of his compartment but he was jammed in and we couldn't. I was rescued off the wing by a boat which Mr. Lea brought out. I had been in the navigator’s compartment. After the airplane landed, I went through the pilot’s compartment to the front hatch. It was necessary to bend down to go through. The position of the main bomb switch on wireless operator’s panel was ‘on’ when I went forward. We came by water all the way to Battle Harbor. I noticed the fire first break out after I was trying to pull the pilot out. At Goose Bay, we used to pull the plugs out from the universal carriers out of the sockets [for the depth charges to be made safe]. And this was done from a boat. Done from within the aircraft, I would turn my switch ‘on’ and the pilot controls from his switches. After the engines are stopped, I turn my switch ‘off.’”
FIFTH WITNESS: Mr. William Martin Reid, Accountant for McNamara Construction Company, Goose Bay: “On 5-9-42, I left Goose Bay in Canso Z2140 for Battle Harbour. In the aircraft were William H. Durrell, John F. Cosgrove, Eric Snelling, myself, and six RCAF personnel. Four others and myself were in the blister of this aircraft after it had landed and was taxiing when an explosion occurred which seemed to be under the aircraft. I was severely jarred and then there was another explosion. Both explosions were rather dull with no sharp report. I climbed on the wing with the help of the WOAGs. Neither Cosgrove or Snelling were on the wing and I never saw them again. I think they went down with the aircraft when it sank. I do not know how this trip was arranged for us, but I understand that Mr. Durrell made the arrangements. The trip was to make an inspection and pay the men on the job at Battle Harbor. We also took down some electrical equipment. I had $7000 in cash with me to pay them in there, all of which was lost. This job at Battle Harbor was originally for the Canadian Navy, but now I understand it is for the US Navy. I sustained multiple abrasions and shocks as injuries in this accident. I did not sign any waiver. The two WOAGs did excellent work in the rescue. I think they saved Mr. Durrell’s life. They also saved Kontzie and me. Mr. Norman Lea did excellent work with his boat. He came alongside when the wing of the aircraft was burning. About two or three seconds between the two explosions. There was also a third explosion when we were in Mr. Lea’s boat and about 100 feet from the aircraft. The third explosion made a terrific flame but it was not sharp. I would say that the aircraft was taxiing about 10 knots and we were circling when the accident happened. There were some herring nets near.”
FOURTH WITNESS: F/L Donald George Selby, R66085, WOAG aboard Catalina Z2140: “It was a very good landing. I went forward to the front hatch from the wireless seat. I opened the front hatch and got ready to throw out the anchor. There was an explosion which seemed to be about under the forward end of the navigator’s table. There were no fumes in the aircraft, and it was a dull explosion. A few seconds later, there was another similar explosion. Both seemed to throw the aircraft up. I did not notice flames for a few minutes. I saw some barrels and floats in the water. I believe they were herring nets. The aircraft did not go over any of them. I have done about 300 hours with F/L Schlacks. In regard to what was done on this flight with reference to bomb switch on wireless operators panel, as soon as engine started, it was turned ‘on’ and it was left that way. It is always turned ‘off’ after the engines were cut. Sgt Soeder had flown on two previous flights on which I was WOAG. I think he was new at it ,and I heard F/L Schlacks instructing him on the duties of a second pilot. We had been taxiing for 20 minutes before the first explosion. The sea was slightly rough. We did a tail down landing. With regard to control that I have over dropping a depth charge, I put my switch ‘on’, but pilot or co-pilot controls the dropping and the ‘making safe ‘of depth charges from bomb distributor is on the bulkhead behind pilot’s head. I noticed a spout of water after the third explosion but not after the first and second. Everything seemed to lift after the first two. While the aircraft was at Goose Bay, there was no armourer who came to the aircraft. Sargent Whettell and I took out the plugs at night and put them in again next morning. We were at Goose Bay for a couple of days before this accident.”
SIXTH WITNESS: F/L William John Turnbull, R63564, Senior NCO Armament, No. 116 BR Squadron, Botwood: “I helped make the initial installation of electrical bomb gear at Dartmouth on Catalinas in July 1941, and have worked on Catalinas since. Catalina Z2140 left on detachment for Goose Bay on 2-9-42 and did not return. Depth charges are released from a Catalina with the main battery switch at WOAG’s compartment being ‘on’. Bomb release switch ‘on’, which is in the same compartment. Pilot’s master switch ‘on’. Selection barrel on selector box moved from position ‘safe except for jettison’. One or more selector switches selected ‘down’. Push one of three firing buttons for example on pilot’s wheel, co-pilot’s wheel or the one in the nose compartment, all of which are shielded. To drop a live depth charge, fusing switches in pilot’s compartment must be down. To drop safe using switches must be up. For a depth charge dropping without the above procedure being followed, switches set as above for dropping live as in flying operations, it is possible for wires two-wheel firing switches to become broken within the sheath due to exaggerated use of controls while taxiing. Wires could then short. I have never heard of a depth charge falling off a Catalina without being released. The position of the pilot’s master switch, fusing switches, and the selector box are on the bulkhead immediately at his back, between first and second pilot’s and above the door leading to the navigator’s compartment. They are about one foot above this door. At Botwood, it has been found on Armourers D. I.s that switches have been left on more than once after the aircraft had been moved or beached.”
SEVENTH WITNESS: W/C William John McFarlane, C564, CO RCAF Goose Bay: “On the evening of 2-9-42, Catalina Z2140 arrived at Goose Bay from Botwood on detached duty to carry on operational patrols. It carried out patrols on the 3rd and 4th of September, no instructions as to this were given by me. I saw F/L Schlacks in the mess on the evening of 4-9-42 and introduced him to William H. Durrell. We proceeded to Mr. Durrell’s shack, and he stated that he had a wireless station under construction at Battle Harbor and had some electrical equipment for delivery there. F/L Schlacks stated to Mr. Durrell that he could take this equipment in Catalina Z2140 as it was near where he patrolled. Nothing was given by me to have Catalina Z2140 take equipment or passengers to Battle Harbor on 5-9-42. It was not requested. So far as I know, no waivers were obtained from the passengers of this aircraft. I did not know what passengers were in this aircraft until 6-9-42 when its list was handed to me by the adjutant signed by F/L Schlacks. The crew shown on this list were: F/L Schlacks, pilot, Sgt Soeder, co-pilot, P/L McAdam, navigator, William H. Durrell, J. F. Cosgrove, W. J. Reid, and Eric Snelling, passengers, Cpl Kontzie, flight engineer. If authority had been requested for carrying these passengers on this flight, I would have granted it as this was a Department of Transport job and the only means of transportation is service aircraft.”
EIGHTH WITNESS: F/L Arthur Douglas Gibbon, C12666, Medical Officer, RCAF, Botwood: “On 5-6-42, I proceeded by air to Grenfell Mission Hospital at Mary Harbour, nine miles from Battle Harbor, Labrador. At about 2030 hours on said date, I examined the following persons who had been injured in the accident to Cataline Z2140 on that day, namely P/O R. C. McAdam, Cpl Kontzie, Mr. Durrell, and Mr. Reid. On 6-9-42, I examined a body which was identified as Mr. John F. Cosgrove. The cause of his death appeared to be a fractured skull. I was present when Mr. Norman Lea was questioned and he signed a written statement as to what happened. On this date, Mr. Durrell also made a statement which was written down and signed by him. On 6-9-42, I examined F/S Selby and Sgt. Whettell, the former I found to be suffering from a few cuts and abrasions and bruises and the latter suffering from similar injuries. Neither was seriously injured.”
NINTH WITNESS: F/L Frederick Cumberland Barton, C3425, Medical Officer, RCAF, Gander: “About noon on 7-9-42, the following persons were admitted to hospital at Gander, suffering from the injuries as follows: P/O R. C. McAdam: amputation of ends of two fingers of left hand, shock, and some small lacerations. Cpt F. J. Kontzie: broken toe, laceration of upper lip; Mr. W. H. Durrell, very severe fracture of left shoulder blade, multiple cuts on face and head, severed tendon on back of right hand; Mr. W. M. Reid: multiple abrasions. On 9-9-42, P/O McAdam and Cpl Kontzie are still in Gander Hospital. Mr. Reid returned to Goose Bay on the morning of 9-9-43. Mr. Durrell left by TCA on 8-9-42 for Toronto in order to obtain further treatment for his shoulder. The above four persons were, I understand, injured in the accident to Catalina Z2140 on 5-9-42 and received treatment following the accident at Mary Harbor Hospital near Battle Harbour, Labrador.”
EXHIBIT A: “I am Norman Lea, with the McNamara Construction Co. at Battle Harbour, Labrador, employed as superintendent. On the 5th of September 1942, at approximately 1435 hours, I was coming down the tickle in our boat, we were intending to board the aircraft, thinking it was the one we had asked for. When about 400 yards from the aircraft, which was taxiing on the water, I heard a distinctive low report and the aircraft rose in the air to a height of 10 to 20 feet, there didn't seem to be a great deal of water hurled up into the air. I did not observe any flames at this time, after an interval of approximately 45 seconds, the plane rose again, but I'm not certain there was a second report, this time however I perceived flames. The aircraft settled into the water and as we approached it the port wing and forward part of the fuselage were afire. The port wing was slowly sinking. During this time, we were approaching the aircraft steadily and saw six people standing on the starboard wing which we approached, and they jumped on our boat. We were afraid of an explosion from the gasoline and so we proceeded to leave the aircraft. At approximate distance of 200 yards, I heard the report distinctly and saw flames, and a white ball of fire mount about 100 feet into the air. The men were taken ashore and placed in a lifeboat and rushed to the hospital at Mary Harbor. I noticed a great quantity of smoke from the time of the second elevation of the aircraft until the final explosion, clouds of dark, heavy smoke rose above the flames, at the time of the final explosion they increased to a very large proportion. I would say that the smoke was from a petroleum product. I have seen gasoline burn. I don't believe I was close enough to see anything fall from the airplane.”
EXHIBIT B: “I am William Henry Durrell, Superintendent of the McNamara Construction Co., at Goose Bay, Labrador. I was a passenger on aircraft Z2140 which landed at Battle Harbour on September 5, 1942. At approximately 1430 hours, I was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat and we were taxiing in circles to the left. I remember definitely seeing the two depth charges at the moment of the explosion on the starboard wing. I thought we hit a rock; the next thing I remember, I was sitting on the wing, the starboard wing was burning and I worked my way to the end of the port wing where I helped Mr. Reid to hold on to the wing. And a boat was approaching. When it arrived, we were about five feet from the flames and we got aboard and warned other boats away, when we were about 200 feet from the aircraft, I noticed the aircraft explode. Then we went ashore, and we were transferred to a boat and taken to Mary Harbor. I cannot give an opinion where the explosion was centred because I was stunned.”
SECOND INQUIRY: FIRST WITNESS, F/O C. A. Howse, C8249, Station Armament Officer for three weeks at RCAF Station, Gander stated: “The aircraft had been set aside for a live depth charge exercise as I recall. At the time we had a minimum of depth charge pistols at Botwood. On arrival, I had found several pistols which were past due for test and decided to use them for training, live drop rather than send them out for test. The aircraft was given a daily inspection in the armament and passed as serviceable. At the last minute, the training exercise was cancelled as the aircraft was ordered to Goose Bay for operations. The new shipment of pistols had not arrived, so we were unable to re-arm the aircraft with the depth charges complete with serviceable pistols as far as time limit or inspections was concerned. After take-off, on orders from the captain, the second pilot selected fused bombs and turned ‘on’ the master switch. It was the captain’s responsibility to check and see that all circuits were in order. Prior to landing, the reverse procedure was followed. If the bombing circuit is dead, for example, all switches off; the accidental pressing of a firing button or movement of the jettison bars would not release bombs or depth charges. If the switch had been left on during and after landing, there is a possibility that the depth charge could have been released by a short circuit caused by continual wear and tear on the firing button lead which has to be looped around the control wheel spindle to allow rotation of the control wheels. It has been found necessary to check leads frequently and change them if they show signs of wear.”
SECOND WITNESS: S/L L. D. Wickwire, Chief Technical Officer, Gander: “I was instructed to proceed to Battle Harbor with a salvage crew on the RCAF marine craft ‘Arrester’ to attempt salvage of Catalina Z2140 which had sunk while taxiing… owing to the depth of the water, it was impossible to determine the exact position or condition of the aircraft. Salvage parts all had evidence of being torn from an explosion. The under portions of the skin of the hull were corrugated inwards between longitudinal stringers which would probably indicate an external explosion underwater. All fabric parts were burned. The upper end of the main rear starboard wing brace was burned and covered with molten metal by intense heat before sinking. The forward part of the hull is still intact with the nose probably blown in but was too difficult to secure a hitch without the aid of a diver. The torn condition of the port float and other parts recovered indicated an explosion and the burnt positions indicate fire but the condition of the salvage parts give no definite evidence as to what happened. The starboard engine, leading edge of the centre section, and special radio equipment antenna were brought to Botwood. The remainder was left as not worth salvaging. We were not able to recover any bodies. One of the local inhabitants, Mr. Frank Grant, recovered a $20 bill which was floating in the water. I took it from him and gave him a receipt. The money was turned over to the Commanding Officer of the RCAF Station Botwood for which I received their receipt number 245, dated October 27th 1942. Unless an official complaint is raised, there is no point in further salvage of the hull.”
THIRD WITNESS, F.O Arthur Theodore Petstone, C7141, Amament Officer, RCAF Station, Shelburne, NS: “On October 3rd, 1942, I was detailed to accompany the salvage crew on RCAF Supply Vessel ‘Aristocrat 2140.’ We proceeded to Battle Harbor, Labrador to attempt salvage of Catalina Z2140. After the wreckage was located, precautionary measures were taken according to instructions issued by Eastern Air Command to ascertain whether or not explosives were still present. After shaking up the wreckage, with no results, I then proceeded to interview reliable persons to try to ascertain how many and what type of explosions took place. From their statements, I became convinced that all charges had gone off. There were three definite explosions. The first which raised the aircraft out of the water. The second did the same a few seconds later, and one or a combination of both placed the aircraft in a sinking condition. As it settled back into the water, fire broke out on the starboard wing. The aircraft sank gradually during which the McNamara Construction Company boat, in which Mr. Lea, the Superintendent, and a passenger picked up survivors off the port wing. As they left the burning wreckage, they signaled another boat which was approaching to turn back because of the danger of further explosion. They were approximately 200 yards away when the final explosion took place. They describe this as more violent than either of the previous ones. It consisted of a huge column of water to a height of 150 to 200 feet accompanied by burning gasoline. It appeared to me that in some unknown manner, 2 depth charges were released a few seconds apart to cause the first two explosions. The last explosion, I would say, was the two remaining depth charges on the starboard wing which were released by this wing being destroyed by fire. This being based on evidence is gathered later from the wreckage recovered. It was hard to get a definite picture of the state of the aircraft while still floating because of the fire and smoke. The only thing certain was that the port wing was intact. This last explosion had all the appearances of being an underwater explosion because of the height of the column of water and the apparent lack of blast effect above the surface which if present would have probably damaged the boats in the vicinity. I had hoped to salvage parts of the aircraft which would give some definite clue as to how the initial release of depth charges took place. No bomb release gear, carriers, wires, etc., were recovered. Consequently, I can make no statement as to a probable cause of release, of the first depth charge. Definite evidence was obtained that one or more depth charges had gone off in proximity to the hull. Pieces of a depth charge pistol and depth charge casing were recovered from the blister section of the hull. Photos identified as parts of the pistol locking ring, torsion spring, and adjustor head. Other steel parts were identified as bits of depth charge casing.”
FOURTH WITNESS, Mr. W. H. Durrell, General Superintendent, McNamara Construction Co., Goose Bay. “On September 5th, I made arrangements with F/L Schlacks to accompany him to Battle Harbor, Labrador. We were doing a job for the Navy in connection with a radio installation at that point and I had made several requests from the Superintendent there asking me to go down as soon as possible. They required an electrician; some electrical supplies and they were short of money for a payroll. I took an electrician, and an accountant, along with $7000 in small bills to pay some of the native labour. Mr. Cosgrove, the Department of Transport auditor, accompanied us. We arrived at Battle Harbor and circled the job several times, and as it was too rough to land at the actual site of construction, we landed about 3 miles away in the shelter of a little island. We taxied around waiting for a boat. We were taxiing slowly in a circle and noticed a large number of fisherman's nets in the area. I was sitting in the second pilot’s seat holding a pair of binoculars in my hands on my lap. My head was turned to the right looking out the window. I was mentally estimating the weight of the depth charges which were still on the right wing at the time of the explosion. When the jolt came, I distinctly heard F/L Schlacks say, ‘Christ!’ and I thought we had run on a rock. The next thing I remember I was half in the water in the upper part of my body was on the wing. The two WAGS had pulled me up onto the wing. We were taxiing very slowly in a circle maybe three or four mph. The engines were just idling. I don't remember anything out of the ordinary happening in the air before landing. There was a heavy groundswell and Schlacks made a very good landing considering the sea condition. There was a fairly heavy jolt. After landing, we taxied maybe 3/4 of a mile at 10 or 15 miles an hour to where we could just see the tail end of Battle Harbor. A drogue was dropped on the port side and we started circling. Two airmen went up front soon after we landed and were there for some minutes before the explosion occurred. I did not notice the captain making any adjustments to controls behind him on the bulkhead. The second pilot was standing directly behind us in the passageway. We did not sign any RCAF waivers before this trip.”
FIFTH WITNESS: WO1 . L. Gauthier, 1783, Liaison between the Squadron and Central Maintenance at Botwood. “Approximately 95 hours were put on this aircraft from the last entry in the engine and airframe logbooks. The aircraft had 26 hours and 55 minutes to go before the next 50-hour inspection.”
SPECIAL RECOMMENDATIONS: “The Court recommends that suitable recognition be accorded the following: F/S Selby and Sgt. Whettell: saved the lives of several members of the aircraft’s complement and without regard for their own personal safety, gallantly attempted to rescue the Captain from the sinking wreckage. Mr. Norma Lea: Without regard to his personal safety, he came up to the furiously burning aircraft in a small boat and rescued the survivors. FURTHER OBSERVATIONS BY THE COURT: The Court is of the opinion from the evidence produced that Catalina Z 2140 was engaged on a properly authorized patrol. Although the carrying of civilians and subsequent landing at Battle Harbor was not authorized strictly in accordance with C.A.P. 100, section 18 paragraph 8C, the Court considers that the captain's intentions were proper and in the best interest of the service. That court is satisfied that the personnel listed … were occupants of Catalina Z2140 at the time of the accident and received injuries as stated. The RCAF Personnel listed on active service at the time of the accident in carrying out properly authorized service duties. OBSERVATIONS OF AOC: The Air Officer Commanding, EAC, in his covering letter stated: ‘Enclosed here with our two copies of the proceedings in the above-mentioned accident, duly concurred in by the AOC. But not approved owing to the fact that as civilians were involved, it is not known whether any claim might be made against the Crown. There was a civilian paymaster killed, losing about $8000 in cash.’ The AOC further pointed out several discrepancies in certain errors and omissions in the proceedings but stated that as so much time had elapsed since the date of the accident, it was thought better to send the proceedings on as they were.” CONCLUSIONS of AIB: “The AOC erred in stating that the civilian paymaster was killed. Mr. Reid, the accountant, survived with only suffered slight injuries. The AOC further erred in stating that the sum to be $8000 as in evidence stating $7000 was allegedly lost. The question of the money lost by civilian paymaster is not sufficiently proved. There are certain phases connected with the accident which should be dealt with by legal officers and the Judge Advocate General's Department. Matter of compensation if any etc.”
CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE ACCIDENT WERE AS FOLLOWS: Catalina Z2140 took off from Goose Bay on 5-9-42 with full operational load of four 450-pound depth charges and with four civilian passengers to carry out a submarine sweep and drop the passengers at Battle Harbour. Goose Bay lacks operational control and the carrying of passengers was not properly authorized. A landing was made at Battle Harbor and a/c taxied for ten- or fifteen-minutes waiting for a boat from shore as moorings shown on map were not available. An explosion occurred about under the centre of the a/c which lifted it out of the water, a few seconds later, a similar explosion occurred. The a/c took fire and hull went under the surface. Six of the ten occupants of a/c were rescued in a boat operated by Norman Lea. When the boat had left and was about 200 yards away, a third more violent explosion occurred. CAUSE: Aircraft being taxied with depth charges still fused, bomb release switches ‘on’ and one or more depth charges being dropped as a result of inadvertent use of firing button or defective loading to firing button or possible failure of bomb carrier. RECOMMENDTIONS: No passenger be permitted in Pilot’s compartment of an operational a/c. All captains of a/c be again instructed in current procedure in take-offs and landing while bombed up. A CO putting aircraft on detached duty should provide adequate facilities for daily inspections including armourers and electricians. CO, Goose Bay, be given control over a/c on detached duty there and captains of a/c be responsible to him. The Court recommends that a suitable recognition be given to F/S Selby, Sgt. Whettell, and Mr. Norman Lea for the efficient manner in which they carried out the rescue of the survivors.
November 15, 1942: “REPORT ON SALVAGE OF CATALINA Z2140: The aircraft is in from 18 to 20 fathoms of water and is surrounded on two sides by a cliff about 10 fathoms high. On a third side the rises fairly gradual but is filled with large boulders as high as three to five fathoms. The fourth side facing the inner harbor is fairly level varying from 18 to 21 fathoms with a gradual rise to about 10 fathoms where the rises sudden to about 8 fathoms. By towing salvage on the gradual slope, it was possible to get into about 6 fathoms of clear water where the load could be seen and properly be secured for lifting. It was quite easy to locate the aircraft, and by jigging with grapples they could be secured but all efforts to raise the complete fuselage failed as the grapples tore out. A second method used, was to hook a grapple into the wreckage using 60 fathoms of ¾” wire cable which was wound around the wreckage. This load was pulled ashore and proved fairly successful. A third attempt using a steel cable and a noose brought up some parts, but it was difficult for the noose to drop down over the edge of a cliff and land on the aircraft. After this cable had been used for a time, it became kinked and a noose could not be used. The following parts of the aircraft were salvaged: the rear portion of the fuselage complete from #5 bulkhead less all fittings such as armament etc. Outer portion of port wing from connecting point to tip. One starboard rear main wing strut badly burned at upper end, leading edge of centre section. $20 bill found by Mr. Grant. This was turned over to the accountant at the RCAF station Botwood. Starboard engine complete to main spar. If a further attempt is made to raise the balance of this aircraft, it is suggested that a diver capable of descending 220 fathoms be employed. It is quite possible that a line could be put around the section joining the centre section to the fuselage. Consideration should also be taken of the season. Any attempt during this stormy season will be governed by high seas and storms. The local people and the Baine, Johnson & Company are very cooperative, but will be of little help until the fishing season opens next summer. Very few personnel and boats remain in Battle Harbor during the winter season. It is quite possible that there will be a complaint made about the wreckage still under the water as it is in an area where seal nets are set. The nature of the wreckage will entangle any nets that may be lowered on top of it. It is felt that there are no depth charges still on the wreckage has three distinct explosions were reported by local people. For the details of this matter may be obtained from Flying Officer Petstone’s independent report.”
Group Captain F. S. Wilkins, Chief Inspector of Accidents in a letter March 15, 1943, stated: “The evidence is not very conclusive as to the cause of the accident but it points to the captain not carrying out his proper pre-landing bombing drill but the investigation will be referred to the deputy director of armament development for comments. It is very undesirable that civilian passengers should be allowed to sit in the pilot’s compartment in operational aircraft at anytime and particularly during landing and taxiing maneuvers. The special recommendation of the court respecting F/S Selby and Sergeant Whettell and Mr. Norman Lea is not satisfactory in that there is insufficient evidence in this court to enable a proper citation for award to be written. The only particular concerning the two NCOs is made on page 11 by Mr. Reid. It appears however that Mr. Norman Lea did approach the aircraft and succeeded in rescuing 6 survivors in spite of the fact that there had been two explosions and that there was a fire only about 5 feet from the survivors when he took them off. By the time he had retreated to a distance of 200 feet, the last and heaviest explosion occurred. I think under the circumstances this civilian deserves recognition for his gallant conduct as from his own statement in Exhibit B. He realized the danger of the undertaking. If the Command wishes to support any recommendations for F/SLB and Sergeant hotel, they should be asked for further information.”
“April 1, 1943: in the proceedings of the Court of Inquiry forwarded under cover of your above quoted letter, various references are made to the probability that the captain of the aircraft had not carried out the correct pre-landing bombing drill. A recommendation of the court was to the effect that more attention be paid by aircraft crews to the drill laid down for bombing circuits in operational aircraft.”
“April 26, 1943: Pre-Landing Bombing Drill: In reply to your letter of inquiry dated April 1st, investigation shows that at the time of the accident under question, no detailed pre-landing bombing drill was at that time laid out in any operational instructions in this command. Since that time, definite instructions have been incorporated in our B. R. Operations Instructional Manual, excerpts from which are as follows: Crew procedure before flight: PILOT: cooperate with observer for all bomb circuit tests. Observer: carry out all bomb circuit tests as laid down. Crew procedures during flight: on crossing coast have all armament set ready for attack listening carefully on intercommunication that all actions are correctly completed and master bomb switch on. On recrossing the coast, unarm bombs and guns. NAVIGATOR: On crossing coast, prepare all armament for immediate use over the intercommunication system. On re crossing the coast, bombs and guns ‘safe’. In all armament accidents, the point arises that any aircrew who had training at a bombing and gunnery school have impressed on them the fact that armament is not to be brought ready for use until after take-off, and on reaching the danger area for bombing and gunnery, and similarly on return to base, bombs are fused ‘safe’ and guns are properly stowed in ‘safe’ condition. In this particular accident, the observer certainly should have been aware of correct pre-landing bombing drill. Since the incorporation of the orders mentioned above, there should be no recurrence of such incidents.”
Isabelle wrote on the Estates form: “Due to the death of Mrs. Joseph T. Schlacks, mother of the deceased, on December 29, 1942, Charles H. Schlacks, brother of the deceased has been appointed administrator of her estate, having left no will. He wishes me to be appointed guardian of the children and send him a copy of the papers. Should this be done through your office or through our county probates court?”
By March 1950, Isabelle was living in Toledo, Ohio, married to Mr. Carpenter. By January 1956, Isabelle was living in Idaho Springs, Colorado, U.S. living as Mrs. Isabelle C. Bacher, married in Lucas, Ohio, January 2, 1947, having a son, John E. Bacher in 1949. She married again in 1962 to Leonard Marvin Rowe in California. She was 53 at the time. In 1973, she married Cecil Robert Waldron of Los Angeles, California.