ElderCollege features plane crash investigation among 52 courses
On Oct. 30, 1941, an American Airlines DC3 aircraft called the Flagship Erie plummeted into an oat field near Lawrence Station, west of St. Thomas, while on its way from Buffalo to Detroit. All 17 passengers and three crew perished.
When the plane crashed between a farmhouse and a road, the fuel tanks ruptured and the fuselage burst into flames.
The next day, as the remains of the victims were recovered, the skin of Captain David Cooper’s hands was found burned to the controls, indicating he fought to control the aircraft until the last moment, according to Hugh Joffre Sims’ History of Elgin County.
The Royal Canadian Air Force and the Fingal Bombing Gunnery School, located nearby, guarded the site and ultimately came to the conclusion that ice on the wing caused the crash. Others thought a flock of geese might have brought the plane down.
A memorial plaque was placed at the site in a special ceremony that included Cooper’s son Peter in 2018.
A definitive cause of the crash, the worst in Canadian aviation history at the time, remains a mystery, in part, because it was quickly overshadowed by the U.S. entry into the Second World War after the bombing of Pearl Harbour a few weeks later on Dec. 7.
But maybe not for much longer.
The disaster is the subject of a special event on Nov. 7. by Canterbury ElderCollege in collaboration with the Canadian Aviation Museum, part of the college’s fall semester of offerings.
“They have never found out why this airplane crashed,” despite two investigations, said Lloyd Brown-John, director and founder of ElderCollege.
A 2014 book called Final Descent, written by Robert Schweyer, detailed the crash.
“I’ve assembled a panel of four really top-notch people, one of whom is a retired Royal Canadian Air Force crash investigator, and I’ve given each of them a copy of the book, and I said ‘OK guys, go to work and tell us why this airplane crashed,’” said Brown-John.
The event is free, aside from the museum’s $10 entry fee. It’s part of an initiative to encourage more people to visit the museum at Windsor International Airport, where the restoration of a Second World War Lancaster bomber is underway.
ElderCollege is offering 52 courses this year to those 55 and older. Locations include LaSalle, Windsor, Leamington, and Lakeshore, with others available online.
The eclectic mix of courses — usually about 2.5 hours long, and sometimes in two or three parts — cover a diverse range of topics, said Brown-John, who is teaching a course on the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755.
“That was ethnic cleansing, but it was done because there were a lot of Americans in the Boston area who coveted the land these people had in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia,” said Brown-John.
Another free course this year, specifically for seniors, focuses on the county library system and how it works.
There is a course that includes a tour of greenhouses in Leamington.
Two courses on Mennonite foods are bound to be popular, but they are limited to 15 participants so people should register early, Brown-John said.
The health-care system in Windsor is the subject of two courses, one on the new regional hospital and one on the health-care system as a whole.
And there is an intriguing course by Michael Akpata, now the deputy mayor of LaSalle, who served in Afghanistan with 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment, which looks at how the Afghanistan experience affected veterans.
Individual courses range from $25 to $55, and there is an annual membership fee of $16.95, including tax.
Registration takes place online at eldercollege.ca, or over the phone at (519) 253-3000, X4944 or x 4901.
– A look at Local Black History, taught by Barbara Porter, vice-president of the Amherstburg Freedom Museum
– Pelee Island, Birthplace of Canadian Winemaking, by Malcolm Campbell, author of a book on winemaking on Pelee Island.
– America Between Dither & Yawn or Worse, a Round Table, looking at the upcoming presidential election, by Stephen Brooks, professor in the Political Science department at the University of Windsor.
– Gladiators, which looks at gladiatorial spectacles of ancient Rome, by Max Nelson, associate professor at the University of Windsor.
– A Remarkable Story of a Remarkable Organization, the story of the Salvation Army, by Danny Pinksen, who served with the organization for 26 years.
– Appreciation of Authentic Tea and Tea Meditation, by Aihong Tao whose hometown Tongli is famous for its great teas.
– Handbell Ringing for Beginners, by Dale Burkholder, director of two local handbell choirs.
– Beginning Watercolour Painting: Holiday Edition, an online course with Sally LePla.
– Learn Basic Japanese with More Fun!, an online course with Satoko Nguyen, who teaches English and Japanese.