A small town called “100 Mile House” is the primary service
center for British Columbia’s South Cariboo. It has a population of about 2,000
citizens who work in forestry and ranching, and to a lesser degree, in tourism.
The name 100-Mile House comes from the days of the 1860’s gold rush. A
road providing access to the area was constructed, and tiny settlements along
the way became known by their distance from the town of Lillooet.
Although not really a significant part of this aviation story,
you can surmise there’s nothing special or odd about the town. But in the minds
of at least fifty families scattered throughout Canada, the name “100-Mile
House” (or “Hundred Mile” as it’s called) means a great deal.
In the year 1965, an airliner crash put “100-Mile” on the map. A
Canadian Airlines DC 6, came down in the forest about 25 miles west of the
community. All fifty two people onboard were killed, making it one of the
deadliest crashes in Canadian history. And while most accidents can be blamed on
mechanical failure, weather, or pilot error, this one was blown out of the sky,
apparently by an on-board bomb.
"An explosive substance foreign to the normal contents of the
aircraft" caused the crash. This was the conclusion of the coroner’s
inquest. A witness on the ground saw the tail of the airplane separate from the
fuselage. The tail section was found about a half mile from the main, burned
wreckage and became the main focus of the investigation. Traces of acid,
potassium nitrate and carbon, consistent with a "low-velocity explosion" were
found on the twisted metal. Gunpowder, or stumping powder, causes a low-velocity
explosion. The blast damaged bulkheads in the lavatory, severed pipes in the
tail and tore a three-foot-wide hole in the side of the fuselage. The bomb
caused the initial damage that led to the crash. But who was responsible for
building and placing the device on the aircraft?
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation focused on four
passengers, although none were named as suspects. One was a 40-year-old
unemployed man who purchased flight insurance less than half an hour before
departure, naming members of his family as beneficiaries. He was reportedly on
his way to a new job in a pulp mill in Prince George. However, when RCMP checked
all of the mills in the area, no one knew of the man or of any job offer.
Another was a 54-year-old passenger who worked with explosives
and who had been charged with a 1958 Vancouver murder. He was travelling on
business using a ticket purchased for him by a construction firm.
A 29-year-old was also on his way north to accept a job offer.
This man owned a considerable amount of gunpowder, the substance believed used
to blow up Flight 21. Almost three pounds from his stock at his home couldn’t be
Finally, another passenger to come to investigators’ attention
was an accountant who had recently been involved in an audit of a failed
financial services firm. Rumors circulated that he had been murdered because of
potential implications of what he knew. RCMP later discounted this theory.
Charges were never laid, and the source of the explosion remains unknown.
In 1965, it would have been easy to bring weapons and explosives
on to a passenger airliner. Security checkpoints weren’t established in airports
until the early ’70s, when a rash of hijackings finally forced change on the
Today, almost fifty years later, the case remains not only
unsolved, but also largely forgotten. Most people in 100-Mile House are too
young to remember or have never even heard of the crash. The wreckage of Flight
21 still sits in the B.C. woods, a short distance from their town. Several
mementos have been left at the site by family members who haven’t forgotten.
THIS CAIRN DISPLAYS THE NAMES OF THE 52
PEOPLE KILLED ON THE FLIGHT.
Many people are left wondering if the investigation will ever be
re-opened. Criminal cases go cold for a lot of reasons. Witnesses disappear.
Evidence is lost. Leads run out or are ignored. Time and money become scarce.
Budgets are cut. No one is officially in charge, and publicity dies. There can
be more sinister reasons too. Cover ups, leads that are not followed,
investigators being pointed in the wrong direction, or someone is protecting a
guilty suspect. Sometimes technology of the day is primitive by modern
standards, and evidence that is available cannot be properly analyzed. In the
end, the investigators simply cannot put it all together.
In this 50-year-old case, the reasons it remains unsolved are
impossible to determine. But more recently, it has become somewhat routine for
serious criminal cases to be re-opened and in fact, solved. Sometimes the
renewed interest comes from family or victims who refuse to give up. Communities
speak up with their concern. New investigators assume the trail asking different
questions, following different ideas. Further, if evidence was properly
collected and preserved, it may now be evaluated with newer resources in
technology. For instance, in the last decade DNA has become a major tool in
solving old crimes. Forensic chemists perform specialized analyses to identify
materials and learn the nature of such evidence. A highly trained forensic
chemist can determine the composition and nature of materials and also predict
The Canadian Transportation Safety board, which now investigates
aviation incidents, was not in existence back then, and would not be until 1990,
some twenty five years later. This crash was handled by a 25-member RCMP ground
team supervised by Sargent Bob Mullock. The officers searched the scene over the
course of six or seven days. Following the collection of evidence, coroner
Glen McDonald was in charge of the investigation, and on November 26, 1965, his
inquest jury returned its verdict. The explosion and who was responsible for it,
could not be explained.
Families and friends of the passengers killed in that crash
wonder if they will ever have the answers to their questions. Who planted the
bomb, and why? They keep memories alive by sharing with one-another, and on
sites such as a recent FACEBOOK page. In part it states: “This site is to
provide and share information regarding the crash of C.P. Air flight 21 July 8th
1965 near 100 Mile House B.C. We want to connect people and stories, and
preserve the memory of the 52 souls who perished in this tragic event.”
Organizers are planning a 50-year memorial for July 8th, 2015 in
100-Mile House. This will be a low-key event held at a commemorative cairn which
sits in their town. A reception follows, for people to visit and share their
stories. For anyone interested, there is more information on line. Look up “CP
Air Flight 21” on Facebook, or go directly to the site by typing in this link: