Majors Wally Sweetman and Bob Henderson: “Shining examples of strength and courage”

News Article / May 15, 2019

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By Second Lieutenant (now Captain) Mason Gary

Members of 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron recently paid tribute to a fellow aviator who died in an accident two and a half decades ago.

The squadron is part of 12 Wing Shearwater, Nova Scotia, but as the West Coast operational CH-148 Cyclone squadron, 443 Squadron’s home base is Patricia Bay, British Columbia.

While carrying out a mountain flying training exercise in April 2019, the 443 group flew their CH-148 Cyclone helicopter to a mountain saddle located southwest of Keremeos, British Columbia, at an altitude of 7,400 feet (2,256 metres). Their destination was a place known as “Wally’s Saddle”, named after Major Wally Sweetman, a CH-124 Sea King helicopter pilot and 443 Squadron member whose sacrifice and heroism 25 years ago will not be forgotten.

During the morning of April 28, 1994, a transfer of Sea King helicopters was taking place from 12 Wing to 443 Squadron. Major Sweetman was the aircraft commander and Major Bob Henderson was the co-pilot. En route over the Bay of Fundy near Saint John, New Brunswick, the crew experienced an aircraft emergency. A fuel line broke, causing complete engine failure and a fire on board the aircraft at 6,000 feet (1,829 metres).

As the aircrew were preparing for a forced landing, burning fuel was entering the cabin from above, causing blinding smoke to rapidly fill the cockpit. In spite of the chaos, the pilot performed an autorotation and managed to execute a survivable landing. The navigator and flight engineer escaped, albeit with severe burns.

Both Wally Sweetman and Bob Henderson were killed in the ensuing inferno. Their actions, however, live on as an example of bravery, courage, and outstanding airmanship.

In 1999, a memorial plaque was commissioned in Wally Sweetman’s honour. His friends and relatives thought there would be no better place to remember him than in the area he loved so much, located in what is now the Snowy Protected Area in British Columbia. While attending mountain flying school through Canadian Helicopters Mountain Flying School in Penticton, British Columbia, in 1991, Wally had come to love the spot that now bears his name.

After the accident, the first expedition to visit Wally’s Saddle was called Exercise Cathedral Remembrance, and was a multi-day adventure training hike by a group of Canadian Armed Forces members close to Wally. As part of the exercise, Canadian Helicopters delivered the bronze and concrete plaque to the location. Working together, the CAF members built a cairn using surrounding rocks.

In 2014, the 20-year anniversary of the crash, the journey to Wally’s Saddle by members of 443 Squadron was carried out via helicopter. The crew consisted of Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick MacNamara, Major Don Leblanc, Captain Rob McMullen, Master Warrant Officer Michael Tuohy, and Second Lieutenant Mason Gary. It seemed fitting that the same type of aircraft that Wally flew would be used to visit his memorial during a mountain flying training exercise.

The intention of this most recent visit to Wally’s Saddle was that of a force generation trip, during which one of the most experienced pilots in the squadron trains a less-experienced co-pilot on the art and skill of mountain flying.

The story of Major Wally Sweetman and Major Bob Henderson has a similar purpose—inspiring the younger generation of aviators with shining examples of strength and courage—and their legacy lives on as a part of 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron’s heritage. Its members continue to visit the site and are dedicated to the remembrance of both Major Wally Sweetman and Major Bob Henderson.

With files from 12 Wing public affairs. This article was originally published by Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt newspaper Lookout on October 6, 2014.


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