People gather to remember the plane crash of 1946 near Estevan

The plane crash of 1946 at the old Estevan Airport site south of the city will go down as one of the saddest moments in Estevan’s history.

Twenty-one members of the Royal Canadian Air Force – 20 pilots and a groundcrewsman – were killed in the crash on Sept. 15, 1946.

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Yet the event has often been forgotten in the community, until the past few years, when there has been a renewed effort to bring awareness of the crash.  

The latest chapter in the effort to remember these men occurred on the weekend.

A ceremony was held Sunday afternoon – the 73rd anniversary of the crash – at the Estevan Regional Airport. Organized by the committee responsible for the Forever in the Clouds monument, a small crowd gathered to pay tribute to the victims.

Lester Hinzman, who was the MC for the event, said these men deserve the gratitude of Canadians, just like those who have served in the Canadian Forces in the past and continue to do so today.

“These 21 airmen served Canada during a time of war,” said Hinzman. “They saw their friends and comrades die in combat. They survived the carnage of combat. They returned to Canada, which was now at peace. During the time of peace, they were still in the service of our country Canada, as members of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

Crash of 46 ceremony
Art Perry, left, and Diane Primeau, right, had family members who died in the plane crash of 1946. They are joined in the photo by Lester Hinzman.

All that these soldiers wanted to do was come home, Hinzman said, just like the soldiers from any other conflict. They weren’t looking for medals. 

Two of the family members of the victims of the plane crash were in attendance: Diane Primeau, the niece of William Wiecker, came from Grand Prairie, Alta., and Art Perry, the great nephew of William Perry, came from Saskatoon.

Primeau brought a piece from the plane with her, while Perry had fabric that was found at the crash site.

She noted that she was five when the crash occurred, and while she met her uncle, she doesn’t have a lot of memories of him.

“I have a picture of myself with his hat and his tunic on,” said Primeau. “He sent us stuff from over in England when he was there.”

She told the crowd that Wiecker’s younger brother was also killed overseas during the Second World War.

“My grandma lost two of her four sons because of the war, and both of them … it was right at the end of the war. I’m sure that was his last mission, and then he would have been coming home,” she said.

Primeau is touched by the efforts to teach local residents about the plane crash, and called the Forever in the Clouds monument a great tribute.

Among those in attendance was Lowell Holmgren, a longtime resident of the community. He went to the scene of the accident 73 years ago, but never told anyone about what he saw.

“It was unreal,” said Holmgren, who later became a volunteer firefighter. “I’ve been to different airplane crashes in life, but I’ll never forget that one. I still wake up and I see that airplane.”

He used to have debris from the crash site.

“Everybody was in church (that day). A guy came into the church and called them out of the church, and we heard them say there had been an airplane crash,” said Holmgren. “I heard my brother say ‘Well, blow the siren.’”

His brother went back to the crash site in the afternoon and took Holmgren with him. No cleanup work had taken place yet.

Lowell Holmgren
3) Lowell Holmgren, right, views some of fabric found at the scene of the crash site.

 

Lieutenant-Colenol Blair Springate from the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 15 Wing Moose Jaw base said they appreciate being invited to the event, and the efforts of people to guard the legacy of the 21 airmen who died by doing what they can to ensure the men weren’t forgotten.

Marie Calder, who is also part of the Forever in the Clouds committee, said she would like to see a 75th anniversary event in 2021.

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