Lost airmen remembered

"RCN airmen remembered"

The lives of two Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) airmen were remembered Aug. 28 in a solemn and moving ceremony near the place where they were killed over 50 years ago.

Lieutenants Norman J. Ogden and Donald S. Clark died when their RCN T-33 jet trainer crashed near the peak of Mount Strachan in Cyprus Provincial Park Nov. 23, 1963. This tragedy happened the day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

The assassination was covered for days by media around the world, and somewhat lessened the impact of the Canadian naval aviator’s deaths, who were killed in their service to Canada.

Their loss was all but forgotten until some 50 years later, when a memorial project was started by the Air Force Association of Canada, and the Battle of Britain Memorial Fund, to properly pay homage to them.

It was supported by retired RCN aviators across Canada, and this culminated in a ceremony this memorial plaque unveiling Thursday, Aug. 28 near the crash site, which is known as Cyprus Mountain, a ski area north of Vancouver, B.C.

Commander (Ret’d) Al Horner, of Victoria, was a fellow naval aviator with VU-33, the RCN Squadron based at Pat Bay where 443 MH Squadron  is now located. Cdr Horner was also a close friend of the two dead RCN pilots, and he played a major role initially in the search, and then sadly, their burial.

“On Nov. 23, Ian Powick and I were tasked to take two HUPs [RCN helicopters] to Vancouver to assist in the search for the missing aircraft,” said Cdr Horner in his remarks at the ceremony. “The weather was typical for November, low cloud, not much visibility, and very short days in terms of daylight.”

He then explained that the first two days were hampered by low ceilings and their searches were limited and not successful. On the third day, weather conditions improved marginally, and they were able to search the mountain tops.

“On the fourth day, I made two of the saddest and most emotionally difficult flights I have ever made. The first was to bring the accident investigation team photographer to take images of the flight path. The second was to bring the RCAF search master to determine how best to get to the crash site.”

While participants for the ceremony were able to get to the crash site fairly easily due to the cooperation of Cyprus Mountain who put their chair lifts into operation, the terrain is still very rugged.

Other than hikers, very few have been able to visit the crash site for over 50 years.

In attendance at the remembrance ceremony were some of Lieutenant Ogden’s family, including three of his children who are now adults. The ceremony was supported by Air Cadets of 103, 111, and 835 Squadrons, who provided a colour party. Also present were fellow naval aviators, RCAF aviators, and members of the 192nd Construction Engineering Flight of the RCAF who constructed the base of the memorial.

Colonel Carl Wohlgemuth, the senior RCAF officer in MARPAC/JTFP, represented the Canadian Armed Forces at the ceremony. Representatives from The Naval Officers’ Association of British Columbia, The Naval Association of Canada – Vancouver Island Branch, The Royal United Services Institute, the City of West Vancouver, and HMCS Discovery were also in attendance.

“This is not a funeral, nor is it necessarily a sad event. I will not attempt to eulogize Norm Ogden or Don Clark,” Cdr Horner said during his remarks. “I’ll share some very, very personal memories about the events of Nov. 23, 1963, and a bit beyond some 50 years ago.

The Royal Canadian Fleet Air Arm was a small navy air force he explained.

“We flew together, we lived together in the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure, and we socialized together. We were and are to this day, a band of brothers.

“VU-33 was a small RCN Fleet Air Arm squadron based in Victoria. We had three HUP3 helicopters, two CS2F Trackers, and two T-33 jets aircraft. The squadron’s role was to provide services to the fleet such as radar and weapon calibration. We also conducted torpedo drops for the weapon research folks, and target towing for live firing exercises off the west coast. RCN pilots carried out all of these tasks as part of their proficiency flying.”

In 1963, once the search became a recovery operation, Cdr Horner was tasked to be the Officer of the Guard for the Burial Party. The two RCN pilots were buried with full military honours in God’s Little Acre Veteran’s Cemetery near Naden. Cdr Horner recounted that flags throughout the fleet were half-masted.

He finished his remarks by saying that Norm Ogden and Don Clark rest side by side in God’s Little Acre.

“There is a naval base on one side and a golf course on the other. Some would say it’s the ideal resting place for the only two RCN Naval Aviators in the cemetery.”


Capt(N) Kevin Carlé (Ret’d), Contributor

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  1. Harry Windsor P1NA (Retired) says:

    I flew with Lt. Norm Ogden many times both ashore from HMCS Shearwater and from HMCS Bonaventure. I remember him as a quiet professional pilot with a wry sense of humor. Highly respected by all.

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