|| HOME | RESTORATION | BUFFALO 461 | CANADIAN CC-115s | DEDICATION | REUNION|
BUFFALO 461 - Last Flight
Crew and Passengers
116 ATU - Introduction
BUFFALO 461 - Last Flight
Use the menu at left to explore the history of the shooting down of Buffalo 461. Click on image thumbnails to see larger image. Use the "Back" button on your browser to return to this page
On August 9, 1974, Canadian Forces Buffalo 115461 was on a scheduled supply flight from Ismailia, Egypt to Damascus, Syria. Shortly after crossing the Lebanese-Syrian border into Syria, three surface-to-air missiles were fired at the Buffalo resulting in the destruction of the aircraft and the deaths of nine Canadian Forces peacekeepers.
Peacekeeping in the Middle East
United Nations peacekeeping first found a home in the Middle East. The first mission, established in 1948, was the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), an unarmed observer group. The purpose of UNTSO was to supervise armistice agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbours. UNTSO observers are still on duty today.
Following the 1956 Arab-Israeli war, a new type of peacekeeping force came into being with the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). Unlike the unarmed observers of UNTSO, lightly armed UNEF forces were placed between Egyptian and Israeli forces to act as a buffer – with the agreement of the belligerents. UNEF forces remained in place until hostilities once again broke out in 1967. Following yet another round of hostilities in 1974, UNEF was re-established (sometimes referred to as UNEF-2 or UNEF-ME) to once again place a UN buffer force between Israeli and Egyptian forces. Around the same time, another UN observer force, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was put in place on the Golan Heights to act as observers of the cease fire between Israel and Syria. UNDOF observers are still working today.
Canada has played an important role in these and other peacekeeping missions. Lester Pearson, then the Canadian Secretary for External Affairs, was a key player in the establishment of UNEF, the first armed buffer force. And Canadian peacekeepers have been on the ground and in the air with these and many other missions. Of Canada’s 114 UN Peacekeeping fatalities, UNEF has been the deadliest with 53 Canadian fatalities.
When UNEF-2 was established in 1974, one of Canada’s contributions was an Air Transport Unit (116 ATU). This unit, initially equipped with two CC-115 Buffalo aircraft (and later with three for a short time), provided airlift support for UNEF-2 and UNDOF. By August 1974, UN Flight 51 was flying a six day a week schedule. Originating from Beirut, the flight’s first destination was Ismailia Egypt (116 ATU HQ). From Ismailia, the flight would over-fly Lebanon and onto Damascus. After unloading in Damascus, the crew would fly back to Beirut to overnight. Crews were assigned to these flights for one week periods. When not on flight duty, crews stayed in camp in Ismailia. Life in camp at Ismailia was reportedly miserable at this time, with a gastrointestinal illness called “Gypo Gut” a common complaint. Flight duty allowed the crews to get a good meal and rest in a hotel in Beirut, without the flies, vermin and generally less than sanitary conditions found at camp in Ismailia.
United Nations Flight 51
On August 9, 1974, UN Flight 51 was crewed by Captain George Gary Foster (Pilot), Captain Keith Mirau (First Officer), Captain Robert Wicks (Navigator), Master Corporal Ronald Spencer (Flight Engineer), and Corporal Bruce Stringer (Loadmaster). Also on board were four passengers: MWO Gaston Landry, MWO Cyril Korejwo, Corporal Michael Simpson, and Corporal Morris Kennington.
The flight from Beirut to Ismailia proceeded normally. After taking off from Ismailia, passage through Lebanon was also normal and at 0945GMT, UN Flight 51 first contacted Damascus air traffic control center (ATCC). Five minutes later, after receiving clearance to Damascus VOR, the last recorded transmission from Flight 51 to Damascus ATCC reportedly by Captain Mirau, was heard “Roger we are cleared to Damascus VOR to maintain 8000 cross Mike Echo Zulu at 10000 or above.”
As the Buffalo crossed into Syria at 11000’ ASL (about 6000’ above ground level), a surface to air missile was fired at the Buffalo from a Syrian airfield located 14 miles from the Lebanese border. Shortly after, the Buffalo was seen in a controlled descent smoking from the tail. A couple of minutes after the first missile attack, when the Buffalo was 8 miles into Syrian airspace and less than 1000’ above ground level, two more missiles were fired at the Buffalo. The first appeared to strike the left wing causing it to burn and the descent to increase. Just above the ground, the last missile hit the cabin area and destroyed the aircraft, scattering wreckage near the town of Ad Dimas in Syria, and killing all nine passengers and crew on board.
Buffalo 461 wreckage photos provided by F/L Don Fish MMM CD (Ret)
Accidental or Deliberate?
The Canadian Board of Inquiry led by LCol J.A. Cann could not determine if the missile attack was an error by the Syrian air defences, or a planned and deliberate attack on a UN aircraft by the Syrian government for political purposes. Both are plausible.
Syria had just fought a major war with Israel and tensions along the borders were high. Around the time that the Buffalo was shot down, an Israeli Phantom had crossed into Lebanese air space which likely resulted in Syrian air defense being put on high alert. The Canadian Board also speculates that the Syrian missile crew may have been inexperienced. Added to this volatile mix, there is some evidence that the Syrian representative at UNDOF did not properly pass along overflight clearance information to Syrian defense forces for recent changes to the Fight 51 schedule. If the Syrian missile crew were nervous and inexperienced and not expecting Flight 51, they may have inadvertently shot down the Buffalo. While the white-painted Buffalo is larger and slower than contemporary fighter-bombers, visual identification of the aircraft was typically not part of procedures used by the air defense units such as the one that shot down Flight 51.
The Board concluded that it was also possible that the Buffalo was intentionally shot down by the Syrians to put pressure on the UN to address the issue of Israeli over flights. During the investigation, the Syrians attempted to link the shooting down of the Buffalo to Israeli over flights.
Whether accidental or deliberate, it seemed clear to the members of the Canadian Board of Inquiry that Syria attempted to use the event to their advantage. They never admitted that their missiles destroyed the Buffalo and limited access to witnesses and the crash site. The Canadian Board also concluded that the Damascus ATCC tapes were deliberately altered to remove 2.5 minutes of the recording at the time that the Buffalo was shot down.
Whatever the cause, August 9 is now an important date in the legacy of Canadian Peacekeeping. When Flight 51 was destroyed, it resulted in largest single-incident loss of life in the history of Canadian Peacekeeping operations. On August 9th, take time to pause and remember the crew of Flight 51, and to commemorate all Canadians who helped, and are helping, to give peace a chance in many unsettled corners of this good earth.
Ad Dimas - 30 Anniversary Memorial Service 09 August 2004. Wreaths were laid by Ambassador Davis on behalf of Canada, the FC on behalf of UNDOF, LCol Myers on behalf of TFGolan and then by individual officers and soldiers for each of the lost members of the flight. Photograph courtesy of Mel JN McGraw. Click on image to see full size photograph.
Information for this article was primarily obtained from the September 1974 Canadian Forces Board of Inquiry Report released September 2002 through the Access to Information Act. Go to our MAPS page to see key locations in this incident.
|Click here to Email|