Our Hike Into the British Columbia Bush to the Canso Bomber Wreckage

By J. Davis, EAA 588164, Tofino, Vancouver, British Columbia

Some History

At 2300 on the night of February 10, 1945, a Royal Canadian
Air Force Consolidated PBV-1A*
Catalina serial No. 11007, also known as the Canso, took off from RCAF Tofino
on a routine exercise flight. The flying boat, modified for anti-submarine ops,
was loaded with 12 crew, four 4,100-kilogram depth charges, and 3,400 litres of
fuel. Shortly after becoming airborne, the port engine failed, and the aircraft
descended at 300 meters per minute into the dense bush on a hillside not far
from Tofino.

The 20-year-old pilot, Flying Officer Ronnie Scholes, is
credited with outstanding pilotage, stalling his aircraft into the forest
canopy, resulting in nothing more than minor injury to anyone aboard. The three
uninjured crew members extinguished the fire in the port engine, constructed a
shelter from parachutes, and spent the night near the crash site. After sending
up flares to identify their position, they were rescued the following day. Crew
member Pilot Officer Clarence Sartorius, now in his early 90s, is the only
living survivor.

Original photo of the crash site.
Detail of the wreck site.
Location of the wreck.
Plan of the area.

The Hike

The wreckage was never removed, and to this day serves as a
ghostly reminder of that day in 1945. The site is about a 2-kilometer hike into
the bush on well-marked trails. Starting at the 15th telephone pole south of
Radar Hill on Route 4, a well-groomed climbing path first leads to a graffiti-covered
abandoned building believed to have been a communication shack.

The telephone pole denoting the trailhead.
The easy part.
The communication shack.
Inside the building.
Graffiti abounds.

From here the trail becomes increasingly difficult, although
well marked by ribbons tied to tree branches. As it gradually descends into a
large bog, it gets wetter and muddier. Some visitors have reported getting
stuck in thigh-high mud, but we were there in June and the trail was relatively
dry. In some of the muddier places, people had laid rough-sawed cedar planks to
help traverse the swamp.

Typical trail.

After about 45 minutes of rather difficult hiking, one comes
to the first indication of the actual crash site: a pond that was formed when
the depth charges were intentionally detonated, forming a deep crater.

Crater Pond.

Shortly thereafter, bits of wreckage begin to appear.

And then the empennage of the abandoned wreck peeks out of
the forest.

At last we’ve reached the site. The starboard engine came to
rest not far from the fuselage.

The starboard engine.
The author and his smiling bride.
View from the hillside above the wreckage.
The port engine.
The horizontal stabilizer.

Time to head back. Whew! Great hike. Nap time!

*PBV is the
designation for PBYs built by Vickers under licence.

Blue skies and tailwinds to all!

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