North Star Falling — Death rains from the sky over Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (Part 4)

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At 10:02 a.m. Central Time on April 8, 1954, Trans-Canada Airlines Flight 9 was approaching Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan from the east. It had completed about almost a third of its regularly scheduled flight from Winnipeg to Vancouver, with a planned stop at Calgary.

Flight 9 had originated in Montreal the day before, stopping in Toronto before flying on to Winnipeg. Bad weather had prevented a connecting flight from Toronto from arriving at Winnipeg on time, delaying Flight 9 by several hours. It had departed Winnipeg just over an hour before, at 8:58 a.m. Central Time.

A Trans-Canada Airlines advertising postcard shows a cutaway view of the Canadair North Star airliner. Such postcards were handed out to passengers to send to relatives and friends. Completed cards were handed back to flight attendants, and the airlines paid the postage.

The 31 passengers and crew of four on TCA Flight 9 approached Moose Jaw with no obvious reason for apprehension. The morning was clear and the aircraft was performing normally. It was flying west on Airway Green One at 6,000 feet, at a ground speed of 296 km/h (184 mph) and an airspeed of 351 km/h (218 mph).

The legend on the back of this postcard reads, The famous “North Star” Skyliner is the most modern aircraft in use. Designed for fast, high-altitude ‘over-the-weather’ flight, the “North Star” cabin is pressurized for maximum passenger comfort. Note the unsecured luggage in the luggage racks, which could become lethal missiles in the event of a crash or violent weather.

TCA Flight 9’s crew

All four members of the crew of Flight 9 were from Vancouver: Capt. Ian H. Bell, who had flown for TCA since 1940, was described by friends and co-workers as an especially cautious pilot. He routinely commanded Flight 9. The first officer was D. W. Guthrie; Steward Lou Penner and Stewardess M.L. Quinney made up the cabin crew.

APO Thomas Andrew Thorrat

Five minutes before, at 9:57 a.m., Acting Pilot Officer Thomas Andrew Thorrat had taken off in a WWII-vintage Harvard II trainer, #3309, from RCAF Station Moose Jaw, 7 km (4.5 miles) south of Moose Jaw. Thorat, a student pilot from Kirkaldy, Fife, Scotland, was training at RCAF Station Moose Jaw under the auspices of NATO.

From the left, Captain Ian H. Bell, pilot of TCA Flight 9; TCA Stewardess Marjorie Quinney, and Acting Pilot Officer Thomas Andrew Thorrat, pilot of RCAF Harvard #3309. Photographs of Flight 9’s first officer, D.W. Guthrie, and Steward Lou Penner are not available.

Thorrat, 22, had 170 hours of flying time and was on his 9th solo flight. He was to fly north of Moose Jaw for a cross-country navigation exercise. After taking off, he set a north-by-northeast course and began climbing steadily over Moose Jaw to reach a planned altitude of 9,000 feet. At 10:02 a.m., his Harvard II was nearing 6,000 feet altitude, where its flight path and that of TCA Flight 9 would intersect. His ground speed was 200 km/h (124 mph).

Martha Hadwen

Martha Hadwen on her wedding day. — Photo courtesy of Larry Shaak

At 10:02 a.m., at the home of Gordon and Betty Hume, at 1324 Third Avenue North East, about 1.6 km (1 mile) from Moose Jaw’s city centre, housekeeper Martha Hadwen was busily at work. Martha cleaned the Hume residence every week, normally on Wednesday, but this week the Hume’s schedule had changed and they asked her to come in on Thursday morning. Her sons, Larry and Bill, were at school; her daughter, Marie, was at home with her father, Steve Hadwen.

At 10:02 a.m., Captain Bell, First Officer Guthrie, Steward Penner, Stewardess Quinney, their 31 passengers, Acting Pilot Officer Thomas Andrew Thorrat — and Martha Hadwen — had only moments to live.

Next, in Part 5: Collision! At 10:02:30 a.m., the North Star airliner and the Harvard trainer, collide. Most victims die almost instantly, probably unaware of what had happened.

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