The Courier
Forty years ago, on October 2nd, 401 Air Reserve Squadron lost one of its most well-liked members when Otter aircraft 9417 crashed in the Laurentian woods at Lac des Chats, Qc. Major Carl Liberatore, aged 35 perished along with Captain Yvon Bourdeau, aged 31 of 438 Air Reserve Squadron and Officer Cadet Céline Lacroix, aged 24 from 1 Regular Support Unit. All were based at Canadian Forces Base Montreal, St-Hubert Garrison.

The entire Air Reserve community in Montreal was shocked at the horrible news that we lost three of our members at such a young age. At the time of the accident, it was recently announced that Major Liberatore was to be promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and appointed Commanding Officer of 438 Air Reserve Squadron. In civilian life, he was a DC-9 Captain with Air Canada. Captain Yvon Bourdeau had joined the Air Reserve as an Aviation Technician while attending the “École nationale d’aérotechnique” which is an aircraft maintenance school located at the St-Hubert airport. He subsequently transferred to the Regular Force to pursue pilot training and returned to 438 Squadron to accumulate flying experience on the Otter before converting to the CH136 Kiowa helicopter. During his flying career, he experienced three engine failures and was once posted to CFB Shearwater towing target drones in a T-33. Officer Cadet Céline Lacroix was on contact training with 1 Regular Support Unit before starting pilot training.

According to my technical crewman’s logbook, I had flown with Carl many times but it is one of the last flights with him that was the most memorable for me. During the pre-flight preparation, Carl was going over the aircraft technical logbook to review the open minor defects and to sign acceptance of the aircraft. While he was doing that, I told him I was going to the aircraft to get it ready. After I removed the pitot tube cover and rudder gust lock, I entered the aircraft through the cabin door to check the interior. When a mission involved only one pilot and one technical crewman, it was customary for the crewman to occupy the right-hand pilot seat (with the aircraft captain’s permission, of course). As I was settling into the cockpit, Carl had entered the aircraft and asked me: “Hey, what are you doing? …You’re in my seat!” He then invited me to occupy the left pilot seat.

 

 

Once I was strapped in, he asked me to start the engine. As a technical crewman, I was already experienced in starting the engine so I proceeded to do so and then went through the appropriate checklists to get ready to taxi. Using hand signals, I asked the ground crew to disconnect the power cart and remove the chocks. After releasing the parking brake, Carl instructed me to slowly apply power and start taxiing, following me on the controls ready to take over at any moment, if required. On our way to the assigned runway, we turned into the wind to carry out the required engine and propeller checks.

We then proceeded to the threshold of the runway, locked the tailwheel steering and waited for takeoff clearance. After being cleared, I applied takeoff power with Carl’s hands and feet at the ready just in case. At the prescribed airspeed, I checked the control column forward to lift the tailwheel off the ground and then pulled back to lift the aircraft off the runway. Once we reached our cruising altitude, I couldn’t believe what I just did and remembered my private pilot training to continually scan the skies and the aircraft instruments.

As they say, “all good things must come to an end,” and it was time to return to base. Carl briefed me on the procedures to follow. I had seen it many times before from my seat at the back of the cabin but it’s a whole different matter from up front. Carl set up the aircraft on the proper approach pattern and all I had to do was to maintain proper heading, airspeed and descent rate. At the right moment, Carl cued me to flare the aircraft and let the aircraft settle down to the ground. It wasn’t the prettiest landing but, as the saying goes “any landing you walk away from is a good landing.” But the best part of the flight was seeing the reaction of the marshaller who was guiding us to our parking space on the tarmac. He was looking at me with this look on his face that said, “what the HECK are you doing there?” I must have had the biggest grin on my face when I shut down the engine and secured the aircraft. I couldn’t thank Carl enough for his patience, trust and generosity that provided me a unique opportunity to fly this aircraft from chock to chock. To me, it wasn’t just any aircraft. The Otter is the aircraft where “I cut my teeth” and launched my 50-year career in aviation.

Another story which won the admiration of the ground crew was when we deployed on an exercise to a distant airstrip for the weekend. 401’s ground crew had put in a lot of planning and effort in gathering all the required tools, field equipment and distributing the load equally among the deploying aircraft. We were so looking forward to get away from the base for the weekend and we were ecstatic when we learned that the weather was finally going to cooperate throughout the whole weekend. Again, I was the crewman assigned to Carl’s aircraft but, this time, sat in the cabin with the cargo and other passengers. When we arrived to our deployed airstrip, we taxied to our parking spot. Right after engine shutdown, one of our overeager passengers was ready to party when a loud PSSHHTT of a malt beverage was heard which caught everyone’s attention. Carl immediately looked at us and said, “You couldn’t wait till we got off the aircraft?” We all looked at each other rather sheepishly and wondered what fate was going to befall on us. Carl then smiled and said, “Give me one, will ya!” We all had a good laugh!

Every fall, usually just before Grey Cup weekend, it was a tradition with 401 Sqn to have a touch football game between the officers and the non-commissioned members. It was always a lot of fun and great for squadron morale, not to mention also bragging rights. The squadron established a trophy that would be awarded to the winning team. It was displayed in a glass case in our hangar, and after a short debate and unanimous consent, we named it the “Liberatore Trophy.”

 

 

On October 2nd, 1981, my wife and I had just returned from our honeymoon and were settling into our new apartment when I heard a very distinct sound overhead. I stepped out onto the balcony and observed a float Otter flying on a northerly heading with a CH136 Kiowa helicopter following behind. “What a fitting picture!” I thought since it was depicting the Montreal and Toronto Air Reserve’s transition from the Otter to the Kiowa. I later learned that the Otter was indeed aircraft 9417 with Carl, Yvon and Céline on board with Capt. Gilles Sergerie following, who recently qualified on the Kiowa.

All available members of 1 Air Reserve Wing turned out for the funeral. I had arrived at the Garrison chapel ahead of time and looked inside. When I opened the door, I was taken aback when I saw the three flag-draped caskets at the front of the pews. No one else was inside so I went in, placed my hand on Carl’s casket and bid him farewell and thanks. Our Wing Commander, Colonel Peter Carver, gave a moving eulogy paying tribute to the three Air Reserve “family” members we had lost too soon.

Carl was admired and esteemed by his peers and superiors for his leadership and professionalism.  He was also respected and highly regarded by non-commissioned members because of his genuine concern for their well-being. He would often appear at the entrance of our Combined Mess, request permission to enter and socialize with the other ranks. He also would not hesitate to help us tow aircraft into the hangar during foul weather.

Carl’s experience and character would have made him a great CO. Yvon fulfilled his dream of becoming a pilot and was looking forward to the new challenge of rotary wing flying. Carl was probably very proud of flying with someone like Yvon who was once an aviation technician who worked his way up to the cockpit.

Rest in Peace, crew of Otter 9417. You will always remain “forever young.”

Editor’s Note: Lieutenant Colonel (ret’d) Daniel Leduc served 32 years in the Primary Reserves and 10 years in the Supplementary Reserves. The first 22 years were with 401 Squadron as an Aviation Technician, Technical Crewman and Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Engineering Officer. He subsequently served with 438 Air Reserve Squadron, 1 Tactical Aviation Wing, 1 Tactical Aviation Support Squadron and the Canadian Forces Liaison Council. He also had a parallel civilian aviation career in aircraft maintenance and certification with Transport Canada, Innotech Aviation, Air Canada and Bombardier. Many thanks to Lt (ret’d) Richard Valiquette and Sgt (ret’d) Jacques Lessard of 438 Air Reserve Squadron for their assistance in writing this article.

 

 

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