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Sacrifice remembered

Jennifer Geens
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Nov 08/06) - Men and women of 440 (Transport) Squadron gathered at Dakota Court last Thursday to remember the crew of Dakota 930, which crashed 35 years ago during a search-and-rescue mission, killing all eight people on board.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Wreckage from Dakota 930 still lies scattered at the crash site about 30 kilometres southeast of Paulatuk. - photo courtesy of 440 (Transport) Squadron

Because They Tried

They flew through storms. Through night. Through day.
To help someone, it was their way.
To live. To die. And now on tundra. Frozen. Cold.
There lies the wreckage of those so bold.
Who ventured forth at the faintest plea. To give themselves. To you. To me. To give themselves across this land.
Always ready to lend a hand. To those in pain. Let not their courage be in vain.
Let us remember why that place. On windswept rock in the Arctic waste.
Is a special place, in a special way.
To remind us what they did each day.
To remind us that each day they lived, their greatest joy was but to give.
To give to those whose hopes were low.
Whose earthly light had lost its glow.
To give themselves to those in need.
So let's remember why they died.
Because they tried.
Because they tried in some small way.
To help someone that fatal day.
And now let's hope, indeed let's pray.
That God takes hand and finds a way.
To tell the loved ones left behind, to ease their hearts, to ease their minds
To let them know of the special berth.
He's given these men above this earth.

A memorial to the crew stands in the centre of the residential street, located off Gitzel Street, which was named for the pilot of the downed plane, Capt. Stan Gitzel.

The squadron no longer handles search and rescues, though it does lend a hand in searches when needed.

Just a few weeks ago 440 Squadron located boaters who had gone missing between Yellowknife and Lutsel K'e.

"Back then, that's what they did every day," said Lt.- Col. Paul Fleet.

According to a report in the Nov. 4, 1971 issue of News of the North, Yellowknife pilot Manly Showalter had set out from Cape Parry for Yellowknife via Echo Bay one morning, but set down southeast of Paulatuk due to bad weather. When he didn't arrive in Yellowknife at 6:30 p.m. as planned, a search began.

There was a near-blizzard raging in the area along with freezing rain, and visibility was poor. Fortunately, Showalter had an electronic beacon, which enabled search planes to locate his aircraft two days later.

On Nov. 2, 1971, Dakota 930 was circling Showalter's location, preparing to drop supplies to the stranded pilot. As Showalter watched in horror, the Dakota lost lift, went into a spin and crashed on the tundra. The fuel on board caught fire instantly.

Gitzel, his co-pilot Capt. Cliff Healey, and their crew, Capt. Len Cooper, Lt. Dave Smart, Capt. Pete Hodges, Sgt. Gerry Lemieux, Cpl. Bill Platt and Cpl. Bob Vodden were killed. The cause of the crash was never determined.

The ceremony at the memorial on Thursday was quiet and brief, as Master Warrant Officer Derek Gardner explained the facts of the accident.

Gardner said that, in a profession where people risk their lives daily to save others, it's not uncommon to lose a friend or a colleague.

They're remembered not just during the silences at memorials, but throughout the year.

"You have not been forgotten, gentlemen," he said.

Lt.-Col. Fleet laid a single wreath at the monument before reading a poem written in 1973 in honour of the crew by one of their colleagues titled, Because They Tried.

"It's important to take time to reflect on their sacrifice and remind ourselves that when we come into work we have to do everything we can to make sure the day goes well," said Fleet following the ceremony.

The memorial at Dakota Court is actually one of two monuments to the Dakota 930 crew.

The other is a cairn at the crash site, which a crew from 440 Squadron visited over the summer.