Millinocket, Maine and the Katahdin Region
Around noon on Friday, June 30, 1950 Royal Canadian Navy Lt. Mervin C. Hare took off from Quebec City in Hawker FB 11 “Sea Fury” number TF 997 and proceeded to put on a brief show of high speed aerobatics before flying off to the east. The brief stop at the Armament Establishment at Ancienne Lorette, so that some internal measurements could be taken, was the third stop on his ferry flight from Toronto to HCMS Shearwater in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The plane had just completed an overhaul at A.V. Roe LTD and was being returned to his squadron, the 803 Naval Fighter Squadron, at Shearwater.
Twenty minutes later, Gene Duprey at a camp on Allagash Lake saw TF 997 pass over on course, on schedule, but low, “on the deck”. The 8000 foot ceiling that existed over Quebec when he took off was rapidly closing in to 2000 feet as a warm front moved westward. This was the last certain sighting of TF 997 for nearly 18 years.
When Lt. Hare failed to arrive at Shearwater, a massive international air search was launched. After five days, the U.S. search was called off. No evidence of a crash could be found in the search area from Mt. Katahdin to the New Brunswick border, and it was felt that the plane had made it to New Brunswick before going down. Seven days later, the Canadian search was also called off.
The fate of Lt. Hare remained a complete mystery until the wreckage of the Sea Fury was discovered in February 1968 by two foresters north of Millinocket. An RCN examination of the wreckage located parachute parts and other evidence that the pilot had not bailed out. However, the pilots remains were never recovered, so a small ridge in the thick Maine woods is the final resting place of the 25 year old Lieutenant who began his career in 1944, trained in the U.S. as a Royal Navy F4U Corsair pilot and served in the Pacific aboard the HMS Victorious in the closing days of WW II.
The location of the wreckage still leaves several questions unanswered. The plane came down in a low angle, high speed dive flying almost true north, not the easterly direction of the intended flight. It impacted just 40 feet above the lowest land within a dozen air miles, making a controlled flight into terrain accident unlikely. There were somewhat reliable sightings of TF 997 passing close to a fire tower north and east of the crash site, as well as over a lake south of Millinocket and later flying north near Greenville. If these are all true, then the crash site location and presumed timing of events just does not make sense.
Putting all of the known facts together, there are two likely reasons that TF 997 crashed. When Lt. Hare landed at Ancienne Lorette, he only had 135 gallons of fuel remaining. There was no 100 octane fuel available there. This would only give him a 10-15 gallon margin of safety to make Dartmouth. He had discussed the possibility of having to set down at Moncton or Greenwood New Brunswick for fuel, but he did not so amend his flight plan. The inquiry concluded that his actual fuel state was around 100 gallons, or 60 minutes, after the aerobatics over the airport. This combined with the worsening weather and flying below 2000 feet instead of 7000 makes fuel exhaustion a likely scenario. This is the theory favored by the official inquiry. Lt. Hare was not wearing his life jacket nor did he have his life raft in place when he took off. This was taken by some as confidence that nothing bad would happen, but could he have fully intended to land at Millinocket, Moncton, or Greenwood for fuel?
The version of events, locally touted in 1950, of a lost pilot flying all over Penobscot and Piscataquis Counties before running out of fuel does not stand up in the face of the facts. First of all, Lt. Hare did not have fuel enough to be airborne for the Greenville sighting. To have flown south of Millinocket and then back north again across rivers, roads and populated areas marked on the charts of the era, and stay lost is unlikely even with the 2000 foot overcast and scattered showers at the time. It turns out that a RCAF Harvard flying from Chatham to Montreal flew into Millinocket to refuel and wait out the weather and later flew over Greenville on the final leg of the trip. The timing accounts for these sightings. The only question is, could the witnesses have mistaken a yellow trainer flying overhead for the gray fighter that the Air Force and CAP personnel were specifically asking about? I believe they did.
The likely events leading up to the crash, then, hinge on the validity of the fire tower sighting. It is widely reported locally that the plane passed over the “ground house” type fire tower atop Deasey Mountain in T3 R7 at low altitude. How close the aircraft actually came to the structure and whether or not the engine was missing as it passed is up for conjecture, but the actual sighting was referenced vaguely in the inquiry and was given credibility in the early hours of the search. Local CAP and volunteer aircraft focused on the area east of Stacyville to Haynesville based on this sighting. I have had the story related to me repeatedly second hand, but unfortunately, the gentleman reported to be actually there that day passed on before I could interview him.
Deasey Mountain is right on Lt. Hare’s intended course.
If this sighting is not true, then it is possible that the aircraft or pilot got into trouble and simply spun or spiraled down and hit in a northward orientation. Fuel exhaustion, engine failure and vertigo in poor visibility are a few possibilities.
If this sighting is accurate, and I feel that it is, then how did TF 997 end up back west and south of the fire tower?
Deasey Mtn. is just over 1900 feet high.
Flying under an overcast of about 2000 feet would indeed put the aircraft
right over the ground house. It would be important for a pilot intending
to put down in Millinocket to stay north of the high mountains around
Baxter State Park when flying at this altitude. The rivers and the sudden
change from forest to the open fields of Aroostook County are pretty clear
landmarks that you are east of these mountains and would be visible just
after passing Deasey Mountain.
My personal theory is that Lt. Hare was perfectly orientated as he passed Deasey and the convergence of the East Branch and the Sebois Rivers. He had an operational DF radio and may have been tuned in to Millinocket. He knew he was in a serious fuel situation. I believe that he turned south to Millinocket and shortly thereafter got into serious trouble and knew that he would not make the runway. The valley where the crash occurred appears from the air as a long wide flat section of land in an area that is otherwise rolling hills and mountains. It is plausible that he turned north in an attempt to ditch the aircraft in a deadwater or one of the numerous streambeds that appear as fields from the air and that he simply did not make it.
Exactly what happened that rainy summer day will forever remain a mystery of Maine Aviation History. The best that we can do is gather the facts, tell the story of this young flyer as opportunity permits, and maintain the simple cross, with plaque and Canadian flag that is the sole memorial on that remote ridge that became the final resting place of TF 997 and Lieutenant Mervin Hare, known to his squadron mates as “Butch”.
I am forever indebted to Jim Cougle of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society for his help in researching this historic mishap. -- Peter Noddin
1. Lieutenant Mervin C. Hare RCN (Hare family via Jim Cougle)
2. Sea Fury TF 997 (forefront, tail code BC*G) in her “as delivered” paint scheme. The plane had been overhauled and repainted in a lighter gray scheme just before being lost in July 1950. (DND Canada photo)
To read another article written by the same author in Lost Birds Magazine in 2000 click the title below.
About the author...........
Pete Noddin is Vice President of the Maine Aviation Historical Society
which is dedicated to preserving Maine's aviation heritage. Pete and a
group of dedicated volunteers within MAHS focus on aviation archeology, a
"niche" within aviation history that strives to document aviation mishaps,
attempt to solve "mysteries", as well as preserve and document crash
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