The Day a plane in trouble landed in Cobourg
Dec 20, 1951
On December 17, a chartered flight of a twin-engined C-46 Curtis Commando took off from Burbank, CA headed for Newark NJ via Chicago. On board were 44 passengers and 3 crew - Captain Bruce Melson, co-pilot Ed O’Leary and stewardess Sandy Daine. It was already late, it had been scheduled for a day earlier.
The flight operator was Major Air-coach Inc. based in Burbank.
It experienced problems from the start and landed in the California Desert at Palmdale to fix its heating system. Passengers and crew huddled in the plane overnight with no heat, light or food. Despite this, for the last 2 hours of flight there was no heat.
They arrived in Chicago with more troubles due to icing and bad weather and must have stayed there a day because they finally took off in the evening of December 19.
Near Toledo, Ohio, the plane’s “radio mast” was damaged, torn off or iced over (multiple stories!) so that radio contact was no longer possible.
Because of this, the plane was lost for 6 hours with the last contact to Toledo on Dec 20 at 2:01am.
At some point, the plane turned north although the pilots did not know this.
Most of the time, they could not see due to heavy cloud although they knew from the altimeter that they were losing height. At one point they saw the water and waves of Lake Ontario but thought they were looking at the Atlantic Ocean.
Problems were compounded by wings getting iced and one engine which failed. Then fuel was running low but they hoped to see land shortly. They did eventually see land at around 7:40am but did not know they were looking at the Cobourg area.
One engine failed, then the second one stopped just before landing at
7:45am, Dec 20, 1951.
The plane landed with no wheels down on thick snow that had fallen overnight on Charley Wilson’s farm. This occupied the south west corner of Highway 2 and Roger’s Road – where the current Canadian Tire store is located.
The Wilsons and their neighbours sheltered the passengers and crew and warmed them up before they were taken to the RCAF Hospital in Trenton. There they were given a bed for the night and provided with meals before proceeding by Bus to Newark. Passengers and the crew had many kind words to say about the hospitality of the people of Cobourg.
Story as told by Larry Wilson – a young boy at the time the plane landed on his parents farm.