Real Names: Various
Case: Conspiracy/Suspicious Deaths
Date: December 12, 1985
Location: Gander, Newfoundland
Details: On December 12, 1985, two hundred and fifty-six people died when a charter Arrow Air DC-8 crashed almost immediately after take-off from Gander International Airfield in Newfoundland. All of the passengers were members of the 101st Airborne Division assigned to a peace-keeping force in the Sinai Peninsula. The previous day, their plane had left Cairo Airport and was headed to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, with a fateful stopover at Gander. The crash was the worst single air disaster in U.S. military history.
The crash occurred just three miles from the Gander control tower. The wreckage was spread across an area 1300 feet long and 130 feet wide. Almost immediately, a man claiming to represent the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad telephoned a U.S. consulate in Algeria. He said that the group was responsible for the crash at Gander. However, U.S. army officials discounted any possible terrorist involvement in the crash.
Later, a Canadian board of inquiry stated that ice on the wings of the plane had caused the crash. However, four of the board members dissented, claiming that there was evidence that the crash was not the result of ice on the wings. Les Filotas, one of the dissenting board members, believed that there was evidence of an explosion on the plane.
The members also noted that the crash was different than most crashes that occur on takeoff. Normally during these takeoff crashes, large sections of the plane stay intact and most of the passengers survive. Neither occurred in the Arrow Air crash. The U.S. Government claimed that there was no evidence that an on-board explosion had caused the crash. They also denied that any explosives or ammunition were being carried as cargo on the plane.
Eyewitness reports at Cairo seem to contradict the government's statement. The 101st Airborne Division members waited for eight hours before they were transported to a larger plane. The duffel bags of forty-one soldiers were left behind on the tarmac so room could be made for several large wooden boxes. Some believe that the boxes contained highly classified weapons. At the crash site, rescue worker Harvey Day claimed to have seen five wooden boxes. Military officials prevented him from looking closer at the boxes. He claimed that he saw weapons, missiles, and ammunition boxes.
Harvey also remembered that there was one unusual hot spot at the crash site that could not be easily put out by water. Within days, several rescue workers began to complain of health problems. The symptoms were apparently similar to that of radiation poisoning.
According to one unnamed source, the U.S. Government sealed their records on the crash for seventy years. However, several government agencies, including the Department of Defense and the National Transportation Safety Board, deny that such records exist. Family members of the passengers believe that there is something in the records that the government is purposefully hiding.
In the early 1980s, the U.S. government began illegally selling arms to Iran in a covert operation, known as Iran-Contra. The operation was done in an attempt to free hostages in the Middle East. Allegedly, at around the time of the crash, the operation was in jeopardy. Just a few days before the crash, Col. Oliver North warned that the U.S. risked a new wave of terrorism.
The U.S. government officials did appear to be acting strangely after the crash. For unknown reasons, the crash site was bulldozed within three months, a highly unusual practice. The U.S. Army claimed that it was done simply to discourage souvenir hunters. Shortly after the crash, the remains of the plane were quickly disposed of, buried in a dump. This was also a highly unusual procedure. Normally, downed airplanes are re-assembled in order to study the crash.
The parents of soldier James Douglas Phillips formed a group called "Families for Truth about Gander" in hopes of finding out what really caused the crash. They requested several scrap sections from the DC-8. An expert looked at the scrap pieces and felt that the outward, puckered edges indicated that a blast had occurred inside the plane. The father of James Phillips believes that an explosion occurred in the air, which caused the plane to break apart and crash.
Autopsies determined that many of the soldiers had significant amounts of carbon monoxide in their bodies. This would suggest that a fire or explosion was on the plane before it crashed. In 1990, a congressional hearing on the crash was convened in Washington, D.C. While the committee did criticize the government's lackluster post-crash investigation, it did not recommend a full-scale re-investigation. The families of the victims are still searching for answers in the crash.
Suspects: A purported representative of the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the crash. However, military investigators claim that there is no evidence to support the organization being involved.
Some believe that an accidental explosion occurred on-board due to illegal explosives being stored on the plane.
Extra Notes: This segment first ran on Unsolved Mysteries in the May 5, 1993 episode.
- Gander Plane Crash on Unsolved.com
- Gander Plane Crash on Wikipedia
- Skeptics still question cause of Arrow Air crash