The Penhold Log Vol. V, Number 5, May 1944, page 9
“The Aircraft Search
The night of May 5th, 1944, was for Penhold a fateful occasion which lead to the longest and most extensive search ever made for an aircraft missing from this unit. More than one pilot that night looked forward with fervour to the day when Penhold would release them for more satisfying hazards than the vagaries of the Alberta climate.
Night flying was well under way; bush fires burning locally on a small scale, and on a larger scale north of Edmonton, caused no alarm until one of our aircraft reported dense smoke moving over Gull Lake and rapidly approaching Penhold. Soon after midnight the Chief Instructor was called from his bed to find the aerodrome covered by a dense smoke pall and half a dozen aircraft reported missing. Returning pilots found the smoke so thick that they could not locate the flarepath, even though they passed over the aerodrome. The narrowest escape from a mid-air collision occurred when two aircraft nearly met head-on over the camp in the smoke. One by one the aircraft which had not reached base before the smoke blotted out the aerodrome, landed at distant points and were struck off the “missing” list.
One aircraft was not located for six days. During that time searches for it were carried out by eight stations, some of which put fifty aircraft into the search. An area of 199,000 square miles, all the way from north of Edmonton to the United States border, was thoroughly explored. Aircraft form this unit alone flew more than 22,000 miles, although hampered by bad weather and dense smoke haze. Finally a concentrated search of the most likely areas resulted in the crash being spotted not many miles from the aerodrome. The aircraft had crashed into a thick copse and had disintegrated among the trees. Unhappily, both occupants had been killed.
The aircraft was found by F/Lt. Mitchell, who, a few days earlier, had spotted a small yellow panel in a field near Sylvan Lake – a clue which proved to be irrelevant. F/Lt. Mitchell showed remarkable acuity of vision in discovering the crashed aircraft, for it is certain that a number of pilots had previously flown over or near it. Subsequently an experienced instructor who was informed of the position of the crash was unable to locate it when flying in the vicinity at 1,000 feet, so hidden by the trees was the wreckage.”
Below the above article was another
Officer David Merry
It is with deep regret that we have to record the death of Flying Officer David Merry in a flying accident. Flying Officer Merry, who came from Trinidad, was one of the senior instructors stationed at Penhold, having been an instructor on the unit since February, 1943. He was known as an enthusiastic cricketer, and was captain of the Station Eleven. On behalf of all at No. 36 S.F.T.S., we extend to his friends and relatives our sincere sympathy.
Other information on the deaths of FO D. Merry and LAC G.D. Conway
We have two official records of deaths at this time. One is of the death of FO
Merry RAF which is recorded as occurring on May 4 and one of LAC George David Conway, RNZAF which is recorded as May 5 at the top of his official record of death.
The official note on both of their files is the same (including that they died on May 4), except for the name/rank/serial number in square brackets:
“Circumstances of casualty flying accident involving death of [F/O D.
Merry 135135; NZ435950 LAC Conway, G.D.] which occurred on
Thursday, 4th May, 1944, as a direct result of a flying accident. F/O Merry was instructor to LAC Conway on the night flying cross country navigational flight in Oxford II Aircraft no. 46, X6734. While engaged on this flight the aerodrome and a large part of the surrounding district became obscured by smoke cloud. It is presumed that the aircraft crashed while F/O Merry was engaged in trying to locate the airfield. The aircraft was found after an extensive search, carried out by 50 aircraft, on 10th May 1944, some two miles south of R.A.F. Penhold, and was totally wrecked and destroyed by fire.”
LAC Conway was 19 years old. He was from Bluff, Southland, New Zealand and was a member of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He is listed on his record of death as ‘Presbyterian’. F/O Merry was 21 years old, his father was a minister (Archdeacon) in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. On his record of death he is listed as ‘Church of England’.
The plane they were flying was Oxford X6734. In the official disposal record for Oxford X6734 the following is recorded
“X6734 Airspeed Oxford Mk. I. First date: 24 March 1942 – Taken on strength by No. 1 Port Detachment at Halifax, NS. To No. 3 Training Command on 23 July 1942, for use by the Composite Training Squadron. To No. 1 Training Command on 11 February 1942, for use by No. 1 Flying Instructions School at Trenton. To workshop reserve at No. 6 Repair Depot at Trenton on 15 May 1943. To No. 4 Training Command on 4 October 1943. Category A crash on 4 May 1944, while with No. 36
Service Flying Training School at Penhold, Alberta. Last date: 12 June 1944 – Struck off, reduced to spares and produce.”