Wally’s Saddle: honouring a fallen comrade

MWO Mike Tuohy (left) and LCol Patrick MacNamara kneel by the Wally Sweetman memorial plaque.

MWO Mike Tuohy (left) and LCol Patrick MacNamara kneel by the Wally Sweetman memorial plaque.

Five members of 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron paid tribute to one of their own in August – a fellow aviator who died in an accident two decades ago.

While performing a mountain flying training exercise, the group flew their CH-124 Sea King helicopter to a mountain saddle southwest of Keremeos, B.C., that is perched at an altitude of 7,400 feet.

 The destination is a place known as “Wally’s Saddle”, named after Major Wally Sweetman, a Sea King pilot and former 443 (MH) Squadron member, whose sacrifice and heroism 20 years ago will not be forgotten.

 During the morning of April 28, 1994, a transfer of Sea King helicopters was taking place from 12 Wing in Shearwater, Nova Scotia, to 443 (MH) Squadron in Patricia Bay, British Columbia. Major Sweetman was the aircraft commander and Major Bob Henderson was the co-pilot.

En-route over the Bay of Fundy near Saint John, New Brunswick, the crew experienced an aircraft emergency.  A fuel line broke, causing complete engine failure and a fire on board the aircraft at 6,000 feet.

As the aircrew were preparing for a forced landing, burning fuel was entering the cabin from above causing blinding smoke to rapidly fill the cockpit. In spite of the chaos, the pilot performed an autorotation and managed to execute a survivable landing. The Navigator and Flight Engineer escaped, albeit with severe burns.

 Unfortunately, both Wally Sweetman and Bob Henderson were killed in the ensuing inferno.  Their actions, however, live on as an example of bravery, courage, and outstanding airmanship.

In 1999, a memorial plaque was commissioned in Wally Sweetman’s honour. His friends and relatives thought there would be no better place to remember him than in the area he loved so much, located in what is now the Snowy Protected Area.  While attending mountain flying school through Canadian Helicopters in Penticton in 1991, Wally came to love the spot that now bears his name.

After the accident, the first expedition to visit Wally’s Saddle was called Exercise Cathedral Remembrance – a multi-day adventure training hike by a group of Canadian Forces members close to Wally.  As part of the exercise, the Canadian Helicopters Mountain Flying School delivered the bronze and concrete plaque to the location. Working together, the CF members built a cairn from the surrounding rocks.

Most recently, the journey to Wally’s Saddle by members of 443 (MH) Squadron was performed via helicopter.  The crew consisted of Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick MacNamara, Major Don Leblanc, Captain Rob McMullen, Master Warrant Officer Michael Tuohy, and Second Lieutenant Mason Gary.  It seemed quite fitting that the same type of aircraft that Wally used to fly would be used to visit his memorial during a mountain flying training exercise.

The intention of this recent visit to Wally’s Saddle was that of a force generation trip – where one of the most experienced pilots in the squadron trains a younger co-pilot on the art and skill of mountain flying.

The story of Major Wally Sweetman and Major Bob Henderson has a similar purpose – inspiring the younger generation of aviators as shining examples of strength and courage.

Their legacy lives on as a part of 443 (MH) Squadron’s heritage.  Its members continue to visit the site and are dedicated to the remembrance of Major Wally Sweetman.

2Lt Mason Gary, 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron

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  1. WO (Ret) Bruce Lockyer says:

    I had the hounour and privilege to fly with Wally and Bob, and the rest of the crew. Both these gentlemen will forever stay in my thoughts and prayers. I still remember them flying over my home just shortly before their tragidy. As I watched them pass over I had commented that they were just starting out on a great trip heading to Pat Bay BC. Little did anyone know what was about to unfold. Wally’s Saddle is such a fitting tribute to these two pilots.

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