It’s been 50 years since the worst RCMP plane crash in Yukon history.
On July 13, 1963 at 8:10 p.m. a DHC-2 Beaver (CF-MPO) on floats crashed in Carmacks, killing four on-duty RCMP officers — Sgt. Morley Laughland, Cp. Robert Asbil, Const. William Annand and Const. Laurence Malcolm — and a prisoner, 56-year-old Joseph Philippe Clement Desormeaux, who had just appeared as a trial witness in Mayo.
On that clear, warm summer evening, the plane was returning to Whitehorse from Mayo when Sgt. Laughland, a skilled pilot, tried to land on the Yukon River at Carmacks.
Witnesses reported the Beaver was making a second circle when it rolled over and spun into the ground. It struck the riverbank below the Mayo road and burst into flames. All on board died instantly.
Chuck E. Ford told the Whitehorse Star that the Carmacks basin had unusual wind conditions that could have caused the crash. The inquest jury agreed and recommended the Department of Transport (DOT) install a windsock.
“The RCMP and DOT did not find any mechanical problem,” says Helmer Hermanson, president of the Yukon RCMP Veterans Association and a pilot himself. “Speculation was that it may have been some type of a downdraft or a stall. The Beaver’s a pretty forgiving airplane for the most part — but if you lose your lift or your speed it’ll just fall out of the sky.”
Hermanson has been part of the RCMP “M” Division’s committee to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the crash. For several months, the committee planned the memorial service to be held July 13, 2013, which included a piper, RCMP march, and speeches by local elders and dignitaries at the accident site.
“There has been a marker at the site since November 1963,” Hermanson says, “and a cairn in Carmacks since 1966.”
In November 1963, a bronze plaque was also installed at the base of the RCMP flagpole in Whitehorse. One hundred spectators joined RCMP and armed services members in braving -25°C weather while Sgt. Laughland’s widow, Denise, unveiled the memorial.
Fifty years later, the Laughlands’ daughter and son-in-law attended the anniversary service.
The committee worked hard to locate family members of the officers. The men had all been in their twenties and thirties, and three of them left behind young families.
“It’s been gratifying to see the response from people across the country,” says Hermanson. “All these former RCMP officers and Yukoners putting their investigator hats on. In the end, we found a direct family member — daughter, son, brother — from each family to be there.”
“This was a good opportunity for the force and the Veterans Association to pay tribute. You don’t want to forget about them. This is part of our history and part of our life.”