Good find woody.
I had this posted yesterday but I took it off
until I had time to get the text more in line.
Stories about the CFL all stars of 50 years ago
whose lives were sadly cut so short.
from The Vancouver Sun Sat 09 Dec 2006
Byline: Mike Beamish
Flights, fate and football: Fifty years ago,
five CFL players died when their plane crashed
near Chilliwack. Other stars were supposed to
be on that plane, too.
His full title is "His Honour, the Lieutenant Governor,
the Honourable Norman L. Kwong, CM, AOE."
Fifty years ago today, however, the Queen's representative
in the province of Alberta was a strong, compact young man
named Normie Kwong, the fullback of the Edmonton Eskimos,
the "China Clipper."
When His Honour looks back on a life of extraordinary accomplishment,
he recognizes 1956 as particularly significant passage.
On Dec. 9 that year, Kwong and teammate Jackie Parker
were supposed to be on Trans-Canada Airlines Flight 810,
headed to Calgary from Vancouver following the East-West
Shrine all-star game at Empire Stadium.
It's a long-ago story, but a fateful one, how love got in the way
and made him stay behind to woo the woman who was to become his wife.
Kwong cancelled his plans to be on Flight 810.
"I was courting my wife [Mary Lee] in Vancouver at the time,"
Kwong remembers. "It was probably our second or third date,
so I decided to stay over an extra day. I was booked on Flight 810.
That's correct. The only reason I didn't go was because
I had a date. I'd hate to give her credit for that.
Just kidding. But that was the actual circumstance
of why I missed the flight."
After losing an engine just beyond Hope, the four-engined,
piston-driven, DC-4 North Star was in the process of turning around
and returning to Vancouver when it disappeared over
the Cascade Mountains.
For five agonizing months, it was as if TCA Flight 810
had entered the Bermuda Triangle. Despite an extensive search
involving hundreds of reconnaissance flights, the impact scene
wasn't discovered until May 1957, near Chilliwack.
The plane had slammed into MountSlesse, known as "The Fang",
killing all 62 on board.
Among the dead were Saskatchewan Roughriders Mel Becket,
Mario DeMarco, Ray Syrnyk and Gordon Sturtridge
and Winnipeg Blue Bomber Calvin Jones.
It remains Western Canada's worst aviation disaster
and the sixth most catastrophic loss of life
in the history of Canadian flight.
Parker, who like Kwong cancelled his original booking on 810,
made alternative plans and decided to visit relatives in Mississippi.
At this year's Grey Cup in Winnipeg, the three-time winner
of the league's most outstanding player award was slotted at No. 3
in TSN's Top 50 CFL players of all time.
Kwong, a two-time winner as the league's top Canadian player,
was listed at No. 34.
Following his retirement as a player, Kwong had a successful career
in real estate, was part-owner of the Calgary Flames
when they won the city's only Stanley Cup in 1989
and turned the Stampeders around with the hiring of
Wally Buono as head coach.
A member of the Canadian football and Canadian sports halls of fame,
he was named to the Order of Canada in 1998.
"Everybody's had situations like that where you've made the right choice
or a lucky choice and your life has turned out differently,"
Kwong says. "It's been a pretty good life for me. Four boys,
all married, six grandchildren, and another on the way.
I've been very fortunate."
Whether their best years came in the piston-driven, turbo-propped
or fan-jet age, there has been a long line of teams, athletes
and coaches, from Knute Rockne to Bill Barilko to Cory Lidle,
involved in aircraft mishaps. Given the nature of pro and college sports,
with their hectic scheduling and continental travel demands,
the gratifying conclusion is that air crashes happen about as often
as a perfect game. For comparison, more people have orbited the moon
than pitched a 27-up, 27-down game in the major leagues.
Just the same, it takes only one hairy incident to deflate the balloon
of the most carefree frequent flier.
By a quirk of coincidence, the Vancouver Canucks happened
to be landing on a parallel runway at Los Angeles International Airport
on Feb. 1, 1991 , when a USAir Boeing 737 burst into flames
after colliding with an outbound commuter plane. The Canucks' aircraft,
Canadian Airlines Flight 505, running 20 minutes late,
had arrived just seconds before. The Canucks' pilot gunned his engines,
steering the aircraft to the infield grass to avoid the fireball.
"I remember the pilot saying, 'Please ignore what's going on
on the right side of the plane,'" remembers former Canuck
turned broadcaster Garry Valk. "People were scrambling
down emergency chutes and running by our plane,
running for their lives. It was like out of a movie."
An enquiry later blamed a controller who mistakenly thought
the commuter plane was not on the runway. The toll: 34 dead,
13 seriously injured, and one rattled hockey team.
The following evening, the Canucks lost 8-1 to the Kings,
Pat Quinn's first game after relieving Bob McCammon
behind the Vancouver bench.
"For sure, our guys were shaken up pretty bad," Valk says.
It's almost ancient history now, but Reg Whitehouse remembers
how fearful he became, how long it took to get over the loss
of four teammates whose lives vanished into thin air
with 58 others back in 1956.
Whitehouse, who retired in 1966, immediately after the Roughriders
won their first Grey Cup, said that for the rest of his career
he would get on a plane and wonder if he would make it
to his destination. He played in the '56 all-star game
with Becket, a centre, and Sturtridge, a defensive end.
DeMarco, an offensive lineman and Becket's business
and Syrnyk went along to Vancouver just to cheer them on.
"My wife [Joanne] was supposed to come with me, but we decided
to cancel it. I just had a feeling," says Whitehouse, 75,
who was partial to the turbo-prop Vickers Viscount,
a faster, newer plane just being introduced by TCA. "I was supposed to go back with the other guys, but
to change aircraft. I always wanted to be on the Viscount
because it had good climbing ability. The North Star was slow-climbing,
and it tended to pick up ice. It shouldn't have been
flying in the mountains."
From the doorstep of his home on Rotary Street in Chilliwack,
Whitehouse can see the jagged peaks of MountSlesse, where the debris
field of flight 810 has been declared an official heritage site.
In 1995 -- following pressure from Families of Slesse,
relatives of the victims who wanted the area safeguarded
as a memorial site -- the B.C. government finally agreed
to create an enduring legacy. The oversight
had slipped by for 38 years.
Valerie Borwhistle of Richmond has made a number of pilgrimages
to the site since then. She was only five when her mother, Mildred,
and father, Gordon Sturtridge, went down with the doomed flight,
leaving Valerie and her two siblings, sister Vicki and brother Gordon Jr.,
orphaned in Regina. Mildred Sturtridge had joined her husband
on the all-star trip to get a break from the pressures of child-rearing.
Next year, the Gordon Sturtridge League, a youth football league
named for her father that encompasses boys and girls from North Vancouver
to Pemberton, celebrates its 50th anniversary.
"I was really excited to go up the mountain for the first time
," says Valerie, who was adopted and raised by
her maternal grandparents in Winnipeg before the family moved
"As an adult, it was a chance to come to terms with
the feelings of loss as a child.
At that age, there are lot of feelings you can't articulate.
By the time I was ready to start asking questions as an adult,
both of my grandparents were gone."
Calvin Jones, the only Blue Bomber on the doomed passenger list,
was supposed to have gone out earlier with teammates Bud Grant
(who later coached the Minnesota Vikings to four Super Bowl appearances),
Gordie Rowland and Bob McNamara.
An outstanding offensive guard at the University of Iowa,
in 1954 Jones became the first collegiate football player
ever to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Named team captain and an All-American in 1955,
he was the first black player to win the Outland
as college football's top lineman.
Nothing illustrates the capriciousness of life more than
the circumstances of Jones' death. He slept in on the morning
of his return flight. Rather than heed Grant and McNamara,
who urged him to take a cab and join them at the airport,
he decided to take his time and his chances on Flight 810
-- a milk run that touched down in Calgary and Regina
before arriving in Winnipeg.
"He was one of the greatest football players I ever played with
or against," says McNamara, a running back who went to
the University of Minnesota. "Cal was supposed to have been
on our [earlier] flight. But Bud didn't want to sit around all day,
waiting for an evening flight.
Fortunately we were able to go out earlier on standby.
Cal didn't think it would be a big deal if he went later.
Unfortunately, that was the one that didn't make it.
The three of us [Grant, Rowland, McNamara] were spared.
For years after, Bud used to tell me, 'You owe
me big time.
I'm the one who got you to take that earlier flight.'
I bought him a lot of beers because of it."
At Iowa, Jones' No. 62 jersey -- coincidentally the number of people
lost on Flight 810 -- is officially withdrawn, making him one of
only two players in the university's 117-year football history
to have his number retired. Similarly, the Roughriders
have taken No. 40 (Becket), 55 (DeMarco), 56 (Syrnyk)
and 73 (Sturtridge) out of circulation.
Rob Murphy, the B.C. Lions' left tackle who received
the DeMarco-Becket Trophy, the prize that goes to
the most outstanding lineman in the CFL's West Division,
confessed he knew nothing of the trophy's background
and the human beings thrown by chance on the fated
"It's the first I've ever heard of it," Murphy says.
"The story behind that trophy just makes it more significant to me.
Even after the season is over, I'm still learning things
about the Canadian league and its history that fascinate me.
It's something that should be told."