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Trans-Canada Airlines Crash - November 29, 1963

The Trans-Canada Airlines crash, which occurred at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Friday, November 29, 1963, has been labeled the worst single-plane crash not due to terrorist activity in Canadian history. All 111 passengers and 7 crew members died in the crash.

The DC-8 airplane, the biggest of its kind in Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA) service at the time, was en route to Toronto when it crashed within minutes of leaving Dorval airport in Montréal. The crash occurred near the 12,000-member community of Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville, about 30 kilometres (18 miles) northwest of Montréal.

According to several witnesses, the plane caught fire while in the air, then exploded and crashed. Witnesses also spoke of the impact of the crash as windows shattered and household items fell around them.

The crash landing of the plane created a crater about 45 metres (150 feet) long by 22.5 metres (75 feet) wide. The wreckage covered an area about 800 metres (half a mile) long and 75 metres (250 feet) wide. Investigation efforts were severely hampered because the area was primarily mud and swamp due to prior heavy rains.

It took bulldozers and other heavy salvage equipment several hours to create a road from the main highway in order to provide access for necessary investigation equipment and personnel to the site of the crash.

Aerial photograph of the airplane crash site at Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville, Quebec, November 1963

Source

Plane crash site, Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville, Quebec, November 29, 1963

According to the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the crash, completed by the Department of Transportation in June 1965, the exact cause of the crash could not be determined because of the severe break-up of the plane. The most probable cause of the accident was mechanical failure of the system used to regulate longitudinal positions (the pitch trim compensator or the nose up/down tendency of the airplane). A similar accident occurred with another DC-8, belonging to Eastern Air Lines, shortly after the plane left New Orleans en route to New York City, not quite three months after the TCA crash, on February 25, 1964.

Trans-Canada Airlines (predecessor to Air Canada) created a memorial garden near the site of the crash, with access by way of the Ste-Thérèse parish cemetery. The memorial garden, with pine trees and stone benches, includes two massive boulders dug out of the site where the crash occurred, and a granite monument with the names of the 118 people who perished in the crash.