04 February 2012

Family remembers history of plane crashes

Kim Smith reads the June 12, 1975 Courier article that
recounts the death of his father Prescott and his uncle
Seldon. Throughout the years, air tragedy has been
entwined into the Smith family history.

Sixty-nine years ago, Kim Smith’s father and brother witnessed a tragic plane crash. Years later, they had to live through one of their own.

The first happened on Jan 23, 1943. Kim’s father Prescott Smith was on the Murray Farm at Hills Point, which he managed, when he noticed three military training aircraft, a common sight during wartime. They frequently flew out of Pennfield.

“They were flying about tree-top level, close enough that you could see the men in the cockpit,” said Smith, relaying the story told many times in his family. “The other two flew off to one side, away from the centre plane and the centre plane turned away towards the mountain.”

The plane crashed into Hills Mountain, and Smith’s father, along with his uncle, Wayne Smith, sprung into action. They hitched up the horse-drawn wagon and headed to the crash site.

“They gathered up what they could of these men and brought them to the farm,” said Smith. “Then the Mounted Police arrived and guarded the place because they thought there could have been sabotage to the plane.”

No sabotage was ever found, but three servicemen were. Killed in the crash were Pilot Officer Bayden Bala Williams of Calgary, who was flying, Pilot Officer Philip William McCarthy of Ottawa, and Pilot Officer Geoffrey Alexander Norriss of New Zealand. The two Canadians were taken home, while Norriss was buried in St. George.

That ill-fated flight claimed three young men, and a flight many years later, on June 7, 1975, would claim two of Kim Smith’s family members.

It all started earlier, with dinner plans. Smith’s uncle, Seldon Smith, said to Prescott Smith, Kim Smiths father that he was flying his Piper Tripacer PA-22, a small fixed-wing propeller-driven plane, to Grand Manan to have dinner with their mother and that Prescott should join him. So the men set off to the island.

After dinner, Seldon called his son and asked what the weather was like on the mainland. His son said it was foggy and they shouldn’t fly home. But, Kim Smith said they went up to North Head Airport anyways and were greeted by sunny skies.

“My uncle said ‘we’ll go up and see what it looks like and if it’s good we’ll go home and otherwise we’ll come back.’”

They went up, but no one ever saw them come down.

Kim Smith’s mother was unaware that her husband Prescott had even taken to the air. She didn’t know until she called Grand Manan the next day to see when they were leaving, and she found out they had left the day before. The family feared the worst and started planning a funeral.

The body of Prescott Smith was discovered in the water between Grand Manan and the mainland the following Monday. Seldon Smith was never found, and the plane wreckage was not discovered until more than 10 years later.

The history of air tragedy doesn’t dissuade the Smith family from taking to the air, though. Kim Smith’s brother Paul flies helicopters, and Seldon’s son Michael Smith flies airplanes.

SOURCE: The Saint Croix Courier (St. Stephen, NB) - January 31, 2012.