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Skymaster Down

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Gerry Whitely.jpg


It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Gerry Whitley. Gerry was a passionate about protecting the environment and monitoring oil and gas exploration, mining and the use of wetlands in the Yukon. The oldest of four siblings, Gerry was born in Vancouver and raised in the Kootenays. He came to the Yukon in the late 1960s, first as an assayer for the Faro mine and then as a water quality specialist for the federal government in Whitehorse. He immediately fell in love with the raw and fragile beauty of the Yukon and her people. He shared that love with his wife, Mary, and their daughters, Moriah and Rebecca. Avid outdoor enthusiasts, Gerry and his family traversed much of the Yukon, Alaska, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories on foot, car, ski, canoe and often by air.

Gerry’s tirelessly worked with  the ‘Civilian Air Search and Rescue  Association’ (CASARA) where both he and Mary volunteered in many searches and exercises over the years. Gerry had been involved with the Skymaster search and made significant efforts to revitalize the search for a downed  plane  and  the  44  passengers  lost  in  1950.  He successfully marshalled public, private, and military involvement in redoubling  these  efforts.



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If there was ever someone genetically predisposed to flying, it would be Bob Cameron. His late father, Gordon Cameron, was an apprentice air engineer repairing aircraft of the British Yukon Navigation Company (BYN), and ended his career operating modern bush planes and helicopters. As well - two of Bob’s uncles worked for Canadian Pacific Airlines at the time of its inception. As a child, Bob grew up listening to the stories of Yukon aviation figures. “They’re gone now, but they were heroes of mine; I knew them all my life.”

Now 76, Bob Cameron has channeled his vast knowledge of the territory’s aviation history and the stories of the heroes he grew up around into a book: ‘Yukon Wings’. This book focuses mostly on aviation in the Yukon in the 1930’s, ‘40s and ‘50s.
“The history of aviation around Canada has been basically very well-covered by many excellent books and many excellent authors,” says Cameron, a former commercial pilot for the old Trans North Turbo Air company in Whitehorse.

Aviation first appeared in the Yukon in the 1920s. It was the U.S. army aircraft being tested to fly long distances, which would land in Whitehorse.“But the one area that has not been covered is the Yukon. Our history here is second to none for excitement and interest and adventure. They operated aircraft here that weren’t operated anywhere else in Canada.”

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David Downing is originally from the west end of Toronto. He went north in the late 1970s after completing his geological engineering degree at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Over his career in the Yukon he worked for all three levels of government — Federal, Territorial and First Nations - before helping the Yukon establish its Geomatics program. Dave always wanted to be a pilot and he got his license in Whitehorse. He was recruited to become a member of the Civil Aviation Search and Rescue Association by Gerry Whitley and eventually become the CASARA director. He’s been searching for the Skymaster for the past several years.


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Kyle is the third generation in his family working in aviation in the Yukon. He is an avid Aviation Historian, Pilot and Aircraft Maintenance Engineer and he and his wife Sara operate a mobile aircraft maintenance shop in Whitehorse, Yukon.

The missing C-54 has tantalized Kyle since he was a child. When they aren’t at work, the two are often out with one of their airplanes in the wilderness of the Yukon, Alaska or Northern British Columbia, hunting down and hiking into old aircraft wrecks. Just such an adventure in 2018 led the two to connect with the sons of a US Coast Guard airman who died in a Grumman Albatross crash in 1967. They were able to take two of the sons to the site where their father had lost his life some 51 years earlier.

Sara grew up in Steamboat Springs Colorado. Like her father and grandfather, she got into flying at an early age earning her private pilot’s license (as well as seaplane and tail wheel ratings). She went to work for Aerocet Inc and her tech-rep position with them brought her to the Yukon where she met future husband, Kyle. They have been married since 2016. Sara and Kyle together own and operate two 1950s vintage Cessna 180 aircraft, one of which they rebuilt from a crash that they salvaged in 2019..


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Why does someone become a history hunter? Simple curiosity? The very human need to learn about the past? The desire to prove that there is still much out there to discover? For Doug Davidge, it was all of the above. What began as an interest in scuba diving soon became a passion for finding sunken ships from the Gold Rush era.

Perhaps Doug’s biggest discovery was the long-lost A.J. Goddard, a metal-hulled steam powered stern wheeler that went down in a storm on Lake Laberge in 1901, taking three crew members with it. Doug and his crew of Yukon wreck hunters searched for it for years before accidentally finding it with a fish finder near Goddard Point in 2008. Their initial dives on the Goddard the next year revealed a ship sunk while staying upright --  much of the deck was still intact, including the wheelhouse and paddle wheel. It’s been called “the most significant discovery of nautical archeology in the Yukon.”

Doug was also involved in the “rediscovery” of a giant USAF B-36 bomber that crashed in northern BC, in 1950. As an environmental assessment officer in Whitehorse, he was called upon to accompany the Canadian Military to the mountain top site near Smithers, B.C, because that B-36 had been carrying an atomic warhead. There was no bomb on the site, but the personal effects of many crew members were strewn about the wreckage. Doug was also  the lead in 2018 when finding a Bristol Freighter aircraft that went through the ice on a lake near Whitehorse in 1969. Doug has also been active in the researching the effects of climate change in the Arctic.

Margaret and James F. Pendergast Award received in 2016


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Donna Clayson gained an appreciation for aviation at a young age. While most children played with toys or enjoyed the outdoors, Donna built model airplanes, specifically those associated with the military.

Donna’s brother-in-law Jack built the airstrip at Beaver Creek, Yukon in the 1960s. That first flight with Jack sealed Donna’s desire to learn how to fly. In 2008 Donna joined Civil Air Search & Rescue (CASARA). Over the years she became a spotter and for a short time Zone Commander and eventually President for 6 years for the member organization in Whitehorse. Donna trained for various positions such as Radio Operator, Assistant Search Master and Egress Water Training as well as flying in all the various military aircraft. For Donna this has made life with CASARA very captivating and exciting.

Over the years Donna has written articles on Yukon’s history and assisted various authors with their books.  In 2015 a CASARA member from Alberta asked Donna if she would be interested in becoming involved with searching for an American military aircraft that disappeared in 1950. One that departed Anchorage, Alaska bound for Great Falls, Montana.  The C-54 Skymaster’s last contact was Snag, Yukon.  Over the years Donna became heavily involved with the search of this large aircraft making it her personal mission to locate this aircraft bringing closure to the families of those on-board.  Donna is pleased and honored to be part of the search team as well as the CBC Documentary.


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Greg Hare is the former Yukon Archaeologist and Senior Projects Archaeologist with the Government of The Yukon, Canada. He recently retired after 30 years of service.

During that time, he was involved in a variety of archaeological projects but his research starting in 1997 has been primarily focused on the ‘Yukon Ice Patch Project’, a multi-disciplinary research initiative taking place in the mountains of southern Yukon. The project is a collaboration between the Yukon government and six Yukon First Nations, combining community based research interests with groundbreaking archaeological discoveries. Ice patch research in Yukon is part a newly emerging field of study known as glacial archaeology, practiced in numerous cir-cum polar and other countries. The Yukon ice patches have recently been added to Canada’s tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Greg is an editor of the Journal of Glacial Archaeology, Sheffield, U.K. and in 2012 he was program chair for Frozen Pasts– the 3rd International Glacial Archaeology Conference, in Whitehorse Yukon.

He studied anthropology and archaeology at the University

Mary Jane Johnson.jpg



Gùdia – Mary Jane is a Lhu’ààn Mân Ku Dań Elder who worked for Parks Canada and Kluane First Nation over 40+ years on protected areas, environment, cultural, and indigenous language issues. She is a champion for indigenous language revitalization while partaking in a community that actively lives their culture. She contributes an objective perspective to several boards and committees and sits as an active committee member on: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report Response Task Force addressing the TRC’s Call to Action #70.

Mary has also served on various other committees including: Standing Committee on Canada’s Archives; the Asi Keyi Natural Environment Park Management Plan Steering Committee; the Pickhandle Lakes Habitat Protection Area Steering Committee; the Canadian Mountain Network – Research Management Committee;  the Canadian Mountain Assessment – Canadian Advisory Committee, and the Dan Keyi Renewable Resource Council.  She is retired and is a happy and busy Grandmother of eleven Grandchildren and one Great Grandson.

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After working for the Department of Indian Affairs, Ron joined the Yukon Native Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to securing land claim settlements in the territory. Following some cultural grant work for the federal government, Ron was hired as a park warden during the establishment of the Kluane National Park. As a warden in Kluane, he played a major role in search and rescue activity, as well as in communication and liaison work with local communities and Parks Canada.

Ron is a member of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation and in 1999, he served as the Deputy Chief. His family has a long tradition in Kluane National Park, Kluane is a family name and Louise Lake in the park was named after his grandmother. Ron has been involved in a number of archaeology projects in the north. “He is credited with “rediscovering” the Hoodoo Mountain obsidian source in Kluane National Park. He also led the 1993 archaeology survey effort to relocate the 19th century Tatshenshini River native fishing villages. Ron was the first Yukoner and First Nation man to climb Mount Logan in 1975. He was also part of the RCMP centennial climb to Mount Steele in 1990.




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Sid arrived in Canada in 1953 from Denmark and eight years later landed in Beaver Creek, where he literally married a princess (the daughter of a White River First Nations chief.) He’s been collecting things for more than 40 years, and officially created Bordertown a few years back to show off his assortment of peculiar objects.

“My whole house, everything on my property except my garage is recycled, scavenged material,” Sid van der Meer Sr. explains as we stroll through the new but designed-to-look-old buildings that make up the Bordertown Garage and Museum in Beaver Creek, Yukon. “Some of the windows are from the Westmark Hotel. The front door I found at the dump. Everything is from somewhere else. The front deck, those are planks and timbers from the old bridge. I was recycling before the word was ever invented.” It’s not hard to find Sid van der Meer if you ever visit this town. Beaver Creek, population 100, is so small that the same woman runs both the bank (open two days a week) and the post office (three days a week.) It’s a place where you can leave your keys in the car. “I’d lose them otherwise,” Sid jokes.


Clare Fowler.jpg



Born in High River, Alberta, and raised on a farm, Leroy Clare Fowler was an inventive child, building his own tube radio powered by a homemade wind generator so he could listen to shortwave broadcasts from around the world during the World War Two.

Helping on the farm kept him busy when he wasn’t tinkering with his radio or watching planes overhead in the open prairie skies, with the four airfields within a 20-mile radius of the farm. Clare perfected his Morse Code skills and earned a Federal Government Certificate of Proficiency in Radio. With these credentials and a taste for adventure, Clare headed north at 21 when the Radio Division of the Canadian Department of Transport offered him a job. In 1949, he was posted to the Canadian Radio Range Station in Snag, Yukon, and a later was appointed the station’s acting Officer in Charge. He held this position when the Douglas C-54 Skymaster disappeared without a trace.

Clare spent five years in northern radio stations before joining the Department of National Defense in Ottawa. There, he married and raised a family of three children. Widowed in 2013, Clare now lives in a retirement home, and enjoys spending time with his partner, Sharon, his friends and family.

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Larry Floyd wasn’t yet two years old when he lost his mother’s brother, Junior Moore on the Skymaster. But the tragedy didn’t stop there – Larry’s father had a cousin, Raymond Maheny on the doomed flight as well.

Larry remembers stories growing up about his two lost relatives – but mainly about Junior. Junior was only 19 and on his way home to Michigan to meet his nephew for the first time. Junior’s sister, Pat Haupt, remembered that her fun-loving brother “liked to drink” and was a bit of a scrapper. She said she figured his boisterousness probably held him back from moving up through the ranks.

Larry grew up to become a history teacher in Taylor, Michigan, and made it his mission to understand his family history.  The loss of Junior left a hole that was impossible for anyone to fill.

Junior Moore (bottom left from Pennsylvania and Raymond Maheney from Tennessee bottom right.

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Jeannie and Royce Stanley are the Niece and Nephew of Joyce Espe, wife of Master Sgt. Robert E. Espe who was the only woman on the flight, was pregnant and traveling with her 2-year-old son, Victor.

Joyce met Robert when he was assigned to a base in India after the Second World War. They fell in love, and she followed him back to North America when he got reassigned to Elmendorf Airbase in Anchorage, Alaska. Joyce’s father had a premonition that something bad was going to happen and he wept as she left home.

As soon as the Skymaster went missing Robert joined the search in the Yukon, and never gave up searching, even after he had a second family in Arkansas. His daughter Kathy Leurs remembers that her Dad had a short-wave radio room and a collection of Alaskan maps. He was plotting out new searches for his first family until the day he died in 1969.

Joyce with son Victor bottom left and Master Sergeant Robert Espe bottom right.


Judy jackson composite.jpg



Judy never got to meet her father, Staff Sgt. Clarence A. Gibson  – he was lost on the Skymaster in January 1950 and she was born in May. But even though she never knew Clarence Gibson, she’s missed him all her life. Judy lives in Southern Alabama now.  Her mother died a few years ago, in her 90’s, but never forgot the love of her life, Clarence.

Judy has been trying to get the US government to go back to find her father’s plane. She has written to her congressman and even the president.  A few years ago, she visited the Yukon while on an Alaska cruise. She said she looked up at the mountains and said’ “Oh Daddy, where are you?”

Judy pictured top right with husband Billy, Judy’s family, bottom left and Clarence Gibson bottom right.


Barbara Stockton composite.jpg



Like Judy Jackson, she never got to meet her father. Barbara’s mother Marjorie was living in staff housing on Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska when her husband got news that his father was ill. He was flying south to the family home in Texas when he went down on #2469. Marjorie was stunned when she heard the news – she was pregnant with Barbara and also caring for her two-year-old son -- she found herself suddenly left behind in Alaska.

Within weeks the military knocked on Marjorie’s door and told her they needed her house for incoming personnel. She had to leave. So, she packed up and went home to Virginia, where she gave birth to Barbara.

Barbara’s Son Matt Evans, a professional musician, wrote a song called “Marjorie,” in memory of his grandmother’s emotional ordeal.

Barbara Stockton daughter of Franklin Gregory - Franklin Gregory pictured with his wife Marjorie below left and right.


Billy Jackson.jpg



Billy Jackson is the husband of Judy Jackson who's father was lost on Skymaster 2469. He is a long serving US Airforce veteran. He resides with Judy in Southern Alabama.


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