75 years marked since Estevan plane crash killed 21 WWII veterans

Click to play video: 'Forever in the Clouds: Honouring 21 WWII veterans killed in Estevan plane crash' Forever in the Clouds: Honouring 21 WWII veterans killed in Estevan plane crash
It's a significant piece of Saskatchewan history that's faded from the minds of many: 21 WWII veterans had returned home from war, only to fly straight into tragedy. Focus Saskatchewan host Marney Blunt looks back at a tragedy that's been lost in history, and learns how one group is working to honour the victims – Oct 9, 2018

Wednesday marked 75 years since a tragic plane crash in Estevan, Sask., that killed 21 veterans from the Second World War.

On Sept. 15, 1946, 20 pilots and one grounds crewman were headed back to Estevan from Minot, North Dakota after surviving the Second World War.

Read more: Forever in the Clouds: honouring 21 WWII veterans killed in Estevan plane crash

About a year after the war ended the crew was ferrying warplanes between Estevan and Minot.

Britain had borrowed planes from the United States during the war.

The pilots would take planes down to the states and then fly back together in their mothership, Dakota 962.

Author Marie Donais Calder is a local expert about the tragedy and the airmen involved.

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Donais Calder said less than an hour into their travels, the plane crashed right outside of Estevan, killing all on board.

Read more: Second World War plane holds decades of history for Estevan and region

“The sad thing is that they were forgotten by people other than the families. Many family members came to Estevan over the years looking for something to mark this event and they just didn’t find anything.”

Donais Calder and fellow Estevan resident Lester Hinzman hired a sculptor, Darren Jones, to build a monument to remember the 21 airmen.

Getting the monument built was no easy task — the group only had access to photos of 17 of the airmen that were given to them by 15 Wing airbase in Moose Jaw.

“I took on the task of finding the other four and it took me two years to find those four photos,” Donais Calder said.

Read more: Second World War military ordnance found at Saskatoon home inert: police

In the process of finding and researching the families who lost loved ones in the crash, Donais Calder was writing her 25th novel and included photos of the mass funeral held to mourn the 21 individuals.

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Global News ended up featuring the story in a Focus Saskatchewan episode, bringing more attention to the crash that seemed to be forgotten in history.

Donais Calder said because of this episode, the son of one of the pilots found her and reached out.

“(He) started telling me about what it was like for him losing his daddy,” Donais Calder said.

“My heartstrings were pulled and I realized I need to write a book just for them.”

Click to play video: 'Grounded history: Second World War plane holds decades of history for Estevan and region' Grounded history: Second World War plane holds decades of history for Estevan and region
Grounded history: Second World War plane holds decades of history for Estevan and region – Feb 5, 2021

Together Forever In The Clouds outlines the history of the group and each chapter is devoted to each of the airmen.

Donais Calder did her own research using documents such as news articles to guide her writing, but she didn’t stop there.

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She sent each chapter to the pilots’ families, asking them for their input.

“A lot of the times they would say to me, ‘well, I really don’t know anything,’ but we’d start talking and they would tell me the most incredible things that they didn’t even realize,” Donais Calder said.

“So I don’t call it my book, I call it our book.”

Read more: Ontario airmen lost in Second World War bombing raid to be laid to rest

“I would like people to know that we lost 21 courageous young men. I also would like them to know that to start, as Canadians, to honour and recognize all those who have and who continue to serve,” Donais Calder said about the crash anniversary.

To commemorate the day, a private service was held at the 15 Wing airbase. The gathering was limited due to rising COVID-19 cases in the province.

The event was live-streamed on Facebook for friends and families to watch who couldn’t attend.

Though COVID-19 halted their plans to do it this year, the group is planning a larger two-day event in July 2022 for family members of all 21 airmen.

The sculpture memorializing the 21 men sits on Hinzman’s property, just south of Estevan, for the time being.

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“I encourage everybody to come down and have a look-see,” Hinzman told Global News.

-with files from Marney Blunt

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