Department of the Army Historical Summary: FY 1986
Tragedy at Gander
On the morning of 12 December 1985, at 0645 local time (0515 EST), Arrow Airlines flight 1285, a DC-8-63 charter carrying 248 passengers and a crew of eight, crashed just after takeoff from Gander International Airport, Gander, Newfoundland. All on board perished. The postcrash fire, fed by the contents of the stricken aircraft's full fuel tanks, took local firefighters nearly four hours to bring under control and approximately thirty hours to completely extinguish. The firefighters were hampered in their efforts because of the rugged terrain, which initially prevented more than one fire truck at a time from being used.
The passengers on the ill-fated charter were U.S. soldiers. All but twelve were members of 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), most of whom were from the 3d Battalion, 502d Infantry; eleven were from other Forces Command units; and one was a CID agent from the Criminal Investigations Command. They were returning to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home station of the 101st Airborne Division, after completing a six-month tour of duty in the Sinai with the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO). This international peacekeeping organization, made up of contingents from ten nations, had been established under terms of a protocol between Egypt and Israel signed on 3 August 1981. The MFO has had the mission of implementing security provisions contained in the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
Perhaps no other event in its peacetime history has so wrenched the soul and torn at the heart of the U.S. Army as the Gander tragedy, which ranked as the worst military air disaster in the nation's history. But in spite of its grief, the Army moved quickly in responding to the tragedy.
Organizing to Meet Disaster
Approximately two hours after the crash, at 0730 EST, Maj. Gen. William G. Moore, Director of Operations Readiness and Mobilization, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Oper-
ations and Plans, activated a Crisis Response Cell within the Army Operations Center at the Pentagon. Operating around the clock during the nine-day period following the crash, the Crisis Response Cell functioned as the Army's nerve center for all activities associated with the tragedy, which included dispatching an Army team to Gander to assist the Canadians in recovery operations; sending a coordination team to the Air Force Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, where the remains would be transferred for identification and preparation for burial; coordinating Military Airlift Command flights to transport the remains from Gander to Dover; reconstituting medical and dental records to assist in the identification process; notifying the next of kin; and planning for the memorial services honoring the dead held at Gander, Dover, and Fort Campbell. Numerous other services were held at Army posts at home and abroad.
The HQDA Crisis Response Cell included representatives from the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans (ODCSOPS), Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (ODCSPER), Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics (ODCSLOG), Office of the Surgeon General, Office of the Chief of Public Affairs (OCPA), and other Army staff agencies as needed. Because the personnel issues associated with the crash were of such critical importance, ODCSPER formed a Personnel Contingency Cell in the Army Operations Center to support the Crisis Response Cell. Initially the Personnel Contingency Cell focused its attention on providing assistance to the Casualty and Memorial Affairs Operations Center in notifying the victims' next of kin and supporting the identification effort, a major element of which was reconstituting the victims' medical and dental records which were not salvaged from the wreckage of the downed flight. Subsequently, the cell turned its efforts towards appointing and training casualty assistance officers, reviewing procedures for preparation of replacements for overseas movement, and assisting the families of crash victims.
Shortly after he received notice of the tragedy, Gen. Maxwell R. Thurman, Army Vice Chief of Staff, directed Maj. Gen. John S. Crosby, Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, to lead an Army team to the crash site. The mission of the Gander Response Team was to assist the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in search and recovery operations and to arrange for shipment of the remains of the Army's dead to the United States.
Major General Crosby and his ten-member team, which included Dr. Robert R. McMeekin (Col., USA), Director of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), two of his pathologists and a forensic photographer, as well as representatives from ODCSPER, OCPA, Office of the Chief of Legislative Liaison, Office of the Chief of Chaplains (OCCH), and the U.S. Army Military Personnel Center (MILPERCEN), arrived at Gander at about 1500 (local time) or approximately eight hours after the crash. Late on the evening of 12 December, seventeen graves registration specialists from Fort Lee, Virginia (twelve soldiers from the 16th Field Service Company's graves registration platoon and five senior NCOs assigned to the Quartermaster School), joined the team. A second forensic photographer from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology arrived the following day. The Gander Response Team could also count on logistical and communications support from some forty-five sailors assigned to the United States Naval Station at Argentia, which was about 200 miles from Gander, and a smaller contingent of U.S. Navy personnel with the 770 Communications Research Division stationed at the Canadian Forces Base in Gander. U.S. Navy personnel at Gander, the first Americans at the crash site, assisted airport officials in maintaining security at the site until relieved by the RCMP.
The presence of a general officer at Gander; the professionalism and dedication of the AFIP's Colonel McMeekin, which had a most salutary effect on Canadian medical officials; and the effective support of Mr. George Seidlein, who represented the National Transportation Safety Board at the crash site, were key ingredients in the quick establishment of rapport with Canadian authorities, and the early decision to release the remains of the crash victims and to transfer them to the Air Force Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed on 14 December by representatives of the Canadian Aviation Safety Board, the Department of Justice for the Province of Newfoundland, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the United States National Transportation Safety Board, and the United States Department of Defense as the executive agent for the MFO. The memorandum authorized the transfer of all remains to Dover, where the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology would perform pathological examinations and take toxicological specimens "under the control and supervision of the Canadian Aviation Safety Board."
The transfer of remains began on 16 December and was completed two days later. Redeployment of the Gander Re-
sponse Team got underway on 18 December and was finished on 21 December.
The advance party of a second Gander Response Team arrived at the crash site on 16 January 1986 (the main party arrived two days later), following a decision by U.S. and Canadian authorities to renew search operations because Canadian representatives and doctors and U.S. pathologists at Dover determined that at least two bodies had not been recovered. Headed again by Major General Crosby, the new task force had the expanded mission of working closely with the RCMP in conducting a thorough search of the crash scene to recover human remains, personal effects, and military equipment that the initial search and recovery operation may have overlooked. The composition of the second Gander Response Team is indicated in Chart 1.
To reduce the potential for misunderstanding between the RCMP, which remained in charge of the crash site, and the Army graves registration teams working the site, Major General Crosby required that each soldier be briefed on the Army's mission and the exact relationship between U.S. And Canadian agencies at the crash site. Also, a distinct chain of command, including designated personnel at all levels to coordinate requirements with the Canadians, was maintained.
The second search effort began on 11 January and was completed successfully and ahead of schedule on 3 February. The task force returned to the U.S. on 6 February.
On 13 December HQDA formed another ad hoc organization to coordinate all U.S. Army activities at Dover Air Force Base. Headed by Brig. Gen. Claude E. Fernandez, Jr., Director of Manpower, Programs and Budget, ODCSPER, the seven-member Dover Coordination Team was in place on the morning of 14 December. It included representatives from ODCSOPS, OCCH, and OCPA. The ODCSPER representative arrived in the late evening of 13 December and assumed responsibility for coordinating HQDA actions from the 123-member honor guard dispatched by the 101st Airborne Division, which had arrived at Dover earlier in the day.
The Army expanded the Dover Coordination Team on 15 December by adding one more representative each from ODCSPER, ODCSLOG, and ODCSOPS, as well as four administrative personnel to provide around-the-clock services until all remains had been transported to Dover. Two protocol representatives, one from the Army staff and one from the Military District of Washington, also arrived at Dover on 15 De-
CHART 1 - GANDER RESPONSE TEAM
cember to plan the arrival ceremony honoring the first remains from Gander on 16 December.
After completing arrangements for the 16 December ceremony, related tasks included providing on-site public affairs coverage, making arrangements for family members of the deceased who attended the ceremony, and making protocol arrangements for the large number of dignitaries who attended the event. The Dover Coordination Team largely accomplished its task when it provided the required personnel and materiel support for the AFIP's Dover operations. The original contingent returned to the Washington, D.C., area on 22 and 23 December, leaving a small, four-member cell to provide logistics and personnel support for the continuing identification effort and the shipment of remains for burial.
The USAF Mortuary Control Center at Dover, a sixteen-member group headed by Col. John J. Maloney, Director of Housing and Services for Headquarters, Military Airlift Command (MAC), was activated in accordance with local plans for handling mass casualty situations as contained in the 436th Airlift Wing Mass Casualty Plan. The Mortuary Control Center issued daily situation reports on the status of mortuary operations and assisted the AFIP in coordinating mortuary activities, obtaining expendable supplies and other base support, and controlling the pool of volunteers who assisted at the mortuary. During the initial phase of operations at Dover, there was some overlap in responsibilities between the control center and the Army's coordination team which caused confusion, particularly with regards to equipment and supply matters. To reduce such interservice control problems in the future, the Dover AFB commander later recommended that visiting contingents from other services and agencies receive briefings on the mass casualty plan and be advised on their requirements to augment local resources; that special requests and requirements be coordinated with Dover AFB action offices and approved by the Director of the Mortuary Control Center-in his role as the Wing Project Officer, and that command and control responsibilities - be vested in the Wing Project Officer/Director of the Mortuary Control Center, alone. Chart 2 shows the organization of the Dover operations.
The Casualty and Memorial Affairs Operations Center (CMAOC) at the U.S. Army Military Personnel Center in Alexandria, Virginia, expanded by augmentees from other offices with MILPERCEN, operated on a 24-hour basis during the initial period following the Gander disaster. Its primary responsi-
CHART 2 - DOVER ORGANIZATION CHART
bilities were to notify the next of kin, to provide family assistance, and to perform casualty support actions such as documentation for pay and benefits, awards and decorations, posthumous promotions and reconstitution of personnel and medical records that had been lost in the crash and that were needed to help AFIP personnel at the Dover mortuary identify the remains of the crash victims. The organization and physical layout of the CMAOC are shown in Charts 3 and 4.
CHART 3 - CASUALTY AND MEMORIAL AFFAIRS OPERATIONS CENTER ORGANIZATION
The CMAOC worked closely with the thirty-three Casualty Area Commands in the continental United States to insure that the next of kin received notification in person of the tragedy and to select Casualty Assistance Officers (CAOs). These officers were responsible for assuring that the crash victim's next of kin received all appropriate services and entitlements. To assist the CAOs, CMAOC established and manned a telephone hotline which CAOs could call for information on financial matters, housing, transportation, and other issues related to the needs of the victims' families. The CMAOC also helped to arrange three training sessions for the 284 CAOs appointed for the Gander tragedy. One training session was held at Fort Campbell on 17 December, and the remaining two were taught at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, on 18 and 19 December.
One of the most effective ad hoc organizations formed to meet the human needs posed by the Gander disaster was the Family Support Center at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The fami-
lies of some sixty-nine of the crash victims either lived on post or close by, and Fort Campbell, despite being hard pressed, met their needs. Shorty after 0700 (CST) the post received news of the tragedy. Immediately, the Chief of Staff of the 101st Airborne Division called together representatives from all staff agencies, major unit commands and separate battalions to coordinate Fort Campbell's response to the tragedy. Without delay, the Public Affairs Office opened a Press Center and held the first press briefing at 0800. The Adjutant General's Office organized personnel and materiel resources to form a Family Support Center where family members could come for information, consolation, and support. By noon on the day of the tragedy the center was fully operational in a centrally located, dedicated facility which contained a large, open work area, adjoining private rooms, rest rooms, an equipped kitchen, cable TV, multiple phone lines, and controlled access.
Within the Family Support Center, family members of the crash victims who resided in the Fort Campbell area could find the assistance they needed to file for benefits, arrange quarters turn-in or extension, obtain transportation, arrange for disposition of remains, seek grief counseling, and apply for loans or grants. Staffing came from local resources. Other Army and civilian agencies represented included Army Community Service, the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, the American Red Cross, Army Emergency Relief, and Army Mutual Aid.
Fort Campbell established a separate center to support families visiting the installation for the post memorial service honoring the victims of the Gander crash, which was held on 20 December. Services provided at this time included transportation, lodging and meals, and filing and payment of vouchers for travel done under invitational travel orders.
The RCMP conducted initial recovery operations at the crash site. In organizing their search, the Mounties mapped out the crash site into an area 350 meters long by 50 meters wide. Within the charted area, they staked out 10-by-10 and 10-by-30 meter grids, which were numbered. This permitted the labeling of remains, wreckage parts, and other items removed by grid number and greatly aided the identification process.
CHART 4 - CASUALTY AND MEMORIAL AFFAIRS OPERATIONS CENTER FLOOR PLAN
After one day of recovery operations, workers had discovered about 125 bodies and moved 100 dead to a hangar at Gander International Airport, pressed into service as a temporary morgue. On 15 December the RCMP announced that all remains were believed to have been moved from the crash site and that they would conduct a final sweep of the site to certify that everything had been uncovered. A six-inch snow which blanketed the crash site area hampered the final search. Although the Mounties still thought that they had recovered all remains, Major General Crosby, the senior U.S. Army representative at Gander, and Canadian officials agreed on 18 December not to close the crash site until Canadian representatives and U.S. Pathologists at the Dover mortuary jointly agreed that an adequate inventory of remains to complete the identification process had been retrieved.
U.S. support during the initial stage of recovery operations was minimal. The RCMP performed all recovery work and did not permit the graves registration personnel sent to Gander on 12 December on the crash site. Following the signing of the U.S. Canadian Memorandum of Understanding on 14 December, graves registration personnel assisted the RCMP by tagging and inventorying all remains, placing the remains in body pouches and transfer cases, and helping to process personal effects and military equipment, all under the strict supervision of the Mounties. The AFIP personnel on the Gander Response Team, in addition to advising Canadian and U.S. Army officials and assisting in developing the Memorandum of Understanding, visited the crash site to examine and photograph the wreckage, and document ground gouges, tree strikes, and burn patterns.
By 22 December all autopsies of the collected remains had been completed. A review of autopsies and the large number of unidentified remains on hand convinced Canadian and U.S. Pathologists at the Dover mortuary that at least two bodies had not been recovered. Planning began immediately to reopen search and recovery operations, and on 28 December a survey team headed by Major General Crosby, as mentioned, arrived at Gander to discuss with Canadian Aviation Safety Board and Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials the feasibility of resuming search operations.
These discussions centered on four alternative courses of action. The first was to conduct a search of the site immediately. A civilian contractor would remove debris, divert a stream running through the crash site, and build structures to melt
the snow off each grid., Army graves registration personnel would then conduct a detailed sift and search of each grid with the aid of the RCMP. The second alternative involved the same kind of search as in alternative one, but would defer it until after the spring thaw, thereby requiring less contractor support. Alternative three provided for a walk-through search immediately, while alternative four called for the immediate closing of the crash site without any further search and recovery operations.
The RCMP preferred alternative two, which had the advantage of reducing the possibility of damage to remains that the construction needed to implement alternative one might incur. Moreover, better weather in the spring would enable searchers to work faster and provide better results. But the disadvantages of this approach-the perception that the Army was not taking timely action to alleviate the anguish of family members, and the likelihood of congressional and media pressure-proved compelling, and the Canadians agreed to an early and extensive search (alternative one), which would begin early in January.
The second search and recovery effort at Gander was carried out primarily by 5 four-man teams composed of Army graves registration specialists from Forts Lee and Bragg, who arrived at Gander on 8 January 1986. A sixth four-man team joined the effort on 20 January. A Mountie supervised each team and was responsible for recording what the team recovered.
Before the search commenced, a civilian contractor started constructing shelters of wood and plastic over the 350-by-50meter site. The standard 10-by-10-meter size of the shelters sometimes varied due to terrain configuration. Four to five 150,000 BTU propane jet heaters within the shelters melted the accumulated snow and ice. By 11 January the first shelter was ready for search. Three days later all five teams were hard at work. The addition of the sixth team on 20 January did not increase the number of specialists working the site at any one time, but did permit a rotation policy whereby each team received a day's rest after four days of work.
As each shelter became ready for searching, a graves registration team divided the enclosed area into one-meter-wide lanes, with one specialist working each lane. The specialist conducted the search on his or her hands and knees, using brick mason trowels and garden tools to sift through the soil and ash.
Unusually warm weather enabled the graves registration teams to complete their arduous search of the crash site in only twenty-six days, less than one-half the time (sixty days) the operation was expected to take. Their efforts proved successful. Two complete remains, over 300 anatomical portions, approximately 100 health records, four and one-half tons of personal effects and unit equipment, and a hangar full of aircraft parts were uncovered during the second recovery mission, which was completed on 8 February.
Following the conclusion of the second Gander search and recovery mission, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police maintained security at the crash site until mid-May, when grading of the site was done, the site closed, and restoration of the site begun. During the four-day grading operation, which was completed on 15 May, small pieces of aircraft, fragments of personal effects, and four pieces of bone from a human skull were recovered. Master Sergeant Douglas L. Howard, who received the Meritorious Service Medal for his contributions to the Gander operations as Senior Operations NCO and Graves Registration Specialist, and who represented the Army at the official closing of the crash site, returned the personal items to summary court officials at Fort Campbell and forwarded the skull fragments to the port mortuary at Dover Air Force Base. In his trip report, Sergeant Howard observed that additional crash-related items might appear in the future as the soil percolated, but that additional searching was not justified as "all that is possible to recover has been recovered."
Identifying the Remains
At the Dover Air Force Base Port Mortuary, AFIP was responsible for the identification of the human remains, pathology, and autopsy examination, while the Air Force performed organic mortuary tasks (such as embalming, uniform preparation, and casketing), provided administrative support, and prepared daily situation reports. The U.S. Army Escort Detachment at Dover handled arrangements for escorts and the shipment of caskets to the bereaved families.
The identification process was performing according to the format shown in Chart 5. As each transfer case was brought into the mortuary it was weighed, placed on a gurney, and tags with corresponding reference numbers were attached to the transfer case, body bag, and remains. A volunteer with a packet of blank medical forms then accompanied the remains
through the processing stations, assuring that postmortem medical and dental records stayed with the remains and that the remains were not misplaced or neglected. The remains and personal effects were photographed and the latter were transferred to another area for processing. Next, the remains were fingerprinted by an FBI team, given medical x-rays, surgical jaw resections, dental x-rays, and dental postmortem examinations. Finally, an autopsy was performed and a toxicology determination made.
Following the autopsy, a thorough examination of the ante-mortem and postmortem records was made. If there was sufficient evidence to establish a positive identification, the remains were embalmed, casketed, and prepared for shipment. Unidentified remains or incomplete remains were returned to refrigerated semi-trailers for additional processing.
The loss of personal health records (medical and dental), which most of the crash victims carried with them on the flight, severely hampered the identification process. Searchers recovered about 200 health record documents associated with 142 of the victims at the crash site. Another 16 medical records and 26 dental records were at Fort Campbell and the Sinai. An extensive effort to reconstitute the health records destroyed in the crash began on the day of the tragedy. Army medical and dental activities around the world searched their files to locate information on the Gander victims. By the end of the year medical records on 241 of the 248 Army casualties and dental records on 113 of the victims were available at Dover to aid the identification process. By the end of the identification process, the Army had established medical records for all the soldiers lost in the crash and dental records for 80 percent of them.
The Army also sought the help of the families of the victims in providing information to help identify the remains. Initially, casualty assistance officers requested permission from about 150 of the families to contact civilian doctors and dentists who had previously treated servicemembers who had died at Gander. Then, as the need for more detailed information arose, the casualty assistance officers returned to the families for additional information. This approach, although it extended the anguish of the families, was essential to complete an accurate identification process. Going to the families earlier would have aided the identification process. Information obtained included civilian dental records, medical records and x-rays, personal documents from which to lift latent fingerprints,
CHART 5 - PROCESSING REMAINS, DOVER MORTUARY
birth certificates-which were used to obtain footprints, records of tattoos, distinctive jewelry, records of circumcision, and photographs-especially those showing teeth.
The success in reconstructing medical and dental records, the use of fingerprints obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of State, and Army sources, the results obtained from the second Gander search and recovery operation, and additional evidence provided by grief-stricken family members gave the AFIP pathologists at Dover the ante-mortem data they required to make positive identifications of all the crash victims. They completed this task on 22 February.
They based the vast majority of the identifications (226) on fingerprint and dental comparisons. Combinations of association of personal effects, anthropologic, medical, radiographic, and dental comparisons, and facial reconstruction drawings identified twenty-two more crash victims. The eight remaining bodies, which lacked any type of identification, presented a special problem.
Working groups in the identification areas of oral pathology, anthropology, graves registration (personal effects), mortuary affairs, pathology, radiology, photography, facial reconstruction, and fingerprints (FBI disaster squad), supported by working groups in automated data processing (FORECAST System) and medical records/repository (library), formed to sort and process the material returned to Dover as a result of the second Gander mission, zeroed in on the eight unresolved cases. Each of the groups studied the postmortem data collected on the eight unidentified remains, including supplemental information supplied by co-workers and family members, all of which had been entered into the FORECAST microcomputer data base. Representatives from each group met as a cross functional identification team and developed an Exclusion Matrix that was used successfully to identify the last eight remains. The matrix incorporated medical, dental, and radiographic exclusions and exclusions based on anthropological data, such as race, age, height, and build.
Once the identification process for one set of remains was completed, embalming, casketing, and administrative paperwork were accomplished, and the primary next of kin (PNOK) was notified so that burial arrangements could be made. The Dover mortuary's administrative section began the notification chain by informing the Casualty and Memorial Affairs Operations Center that a set of remains had been positively identified and were ready for burial. The CMAOC phoned the infor-
mation to the appropriate Casualty Area Command, which in turn directed the Survival Assistance Officer to notify the PNOK and to obtain disposition instructions. The Survival Assistance Officer (SAO) relayed these back to the CMAOC, which confirmed the information and passed it on the the U.S. Army Escort Detachment at Dover. That unit coordinated all the arrangements for military escorts and the shipment of remains to the burial site designated by the PNOK.
Generally, the disposition of remains went smoothly, although there were problems. In one instance the failure to confirm a social security number resulted in an SAO notifying a family that their son had been identified, when, in fact, the deceased was another soldier with the same last name. A more vexing problem was the fact that sixty-two of the crash victims had parents who were divorced, were themselves divorced, or had fathered children out of wedlock. These personal situations created difficulties in determining exactly who was the PNOK and therefore authorized to give disposition instructions. The SAOs sometimes found themselves in the role of detective-tracking down divorce decrees, obtaining statements to support "loco parentis" and to substantiate relationships of children born out of wedlock, obtaining ages of divorced parents, and determining whether divorced fathers had abandoned the support of their families. Determining the PNOK in these situations would have been a much more serious problem but for the delay in identifying the remains, which gave the SAOs time to investigate these personal labyrinths.
The transfer of remains from Dover to destinations designated by the PNOK began on 26 December, when 27 caskets were shipped. A total of 85 remains were shipped in December, 54 in January, 101 in February, and 8 through 8 March, when the last remains with accompanying escort left Dover.
Concurrent with the processing and identification of remains, Army graves registration personnel, primarily from Forts Bragg and Lee, and later supported by additional graves registration and logistics personnel from Forts Carson, Hood, and Ord, conducted the often tedious and repetitious task of processing the personal effects and property recovered from the crash site. They documented all military items, such as radios and weapons, on DA Form 54, Record of Personal Effects Outside Combat Area, and relayed the information to the logistics office at Fort Campbell for property accountability. They subsequently shipped these items to Fort Campbell. The DA Form 54s were also prepared for personal effect items. All
associated personal effects were packaged in boxes labeled with the individual's name, while unassociated effects were packaged separately. Graves registration personnel labeled all the boxes according to content, sealed them, and shipped them to Fort Campbell, where they were signed over to summary court officers, who would arrange for their final disposition. Personal effects damaged by jet fuel, fire, or body fluids were recorded on Certificates of Destruction and destroyed. Shipment of the last boxes of personal effects on 28 February 1986 concluded the graves registration mission at Dover.
The labor-intensive and time-consuming manual effort required to prepare the case files, documentation, logs, and accountability records in paper copy seriously hampered the personal effects processing operation at Dover. Also, the verbal reasoning and clerical skills required to perform the administrative portion of the mission sometimes overtaxed graves registration specialists whose technical knowledge and training focused on handling human remains.
Survivor Support Activities
Army support for the survivors of the Gander crash victims emanated from several centers-Headquarters, Department of the Army; the U.S. Army Military Personnel Center; the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center; Fort Campbell's Family Assistance Center; and the Casualty Area Commands, where the assistance officers assigned to each family were located.
At Headquarters, Department of the Army level, family matters were of particular concern to ODCSPER's Human Relations Directorate, which had a two-member representation in the Army Operations Center's Personnel Contingency Cell, and to ODCSPER's two field operating agencies located a short distance away from the Pentagon in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Army Military Personnel Center and the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center. Family support initiatives at this level concentrated on recommending changes in laws and regulations to meet family needs and expediting services and benefits that otherwise might be delayed by bureaucratic red tape. Congress changed laws to increase Servicemen Group Life Insurance benefits from $35,000 to $50,000 (retroactive to 12 December so that the crash victims were covered); to permit families residing in military quarters to remain there for ninety days; and to grant a ninety-day quarters allowance to
families who were not living in military housing. Government funded travel was authorized for family members who wished to attend memorial services at Fort Campbell on 20 December, and for travel to burial sites. Also, family members attending schools on military posts were allowed to continue their studies until the end of the school year, all pay and allowance settlements were expedited, and awards and decorations due each soldier were developed into special "shadow boxes" for presentation to the next of kin.
At the local level, the efforts of Family Service and Assistance Officers/Survivor Assistance Officers (FSAOs/SAOs) and the staff servicing the Fort Campbell Family Assistance Center who worked directly with the bereaved families complemented policy decisions made in Washington to ease the burden of crash victims' survivors.
The Family Service and Assistance Officer was responsible for personally notifying the next of kin of the crash and keeping the person informed of developments at Gander. Once the Army confirmed that the family member was aboard the ill-fated flight, the FSAO became the Survival Assistance Officer (Casualty Assistance Officer). The SAO or CAO took on the responsibility for assisting the next of kin in obtaining the benefits and services they were entitled to, both from the Army and from civilian agencies. In an exceptional move, Legal Assistance Officers were appointed to provide appropriate legal advice to the primary next of kin and to the SAO.
In addition to their responsibilities toward the families of the crash victims, SAOs served as the intermediary between the Army and the families in obtaining the information needed from the latter for identifying the remains at Dover.
The inconvenience to the next of kin in applying for benefits at a number of civilian and military agencies, which might well be located at widely dispersed points, even with the help of their SAO, was greatly alleviated at Fort Campbell, where the Family Assistance Center provided a single source of expertise and assistance. There the next of kin could file for all benefits, arrange quarters turn-in or extension, transportation, loans or grants, obtain grief counselling, and arrange for disposition of remains. Fort Campbell's quick and effective response in meeting the human needs resulting from the Gander tragedy was the fruition of actions begun in 1984 with the establishment of a Casualty Working Group to coordinate installation and community activities associated with casualty reporting and related matters. Fort Campbell's action was part of an
Army-wide effort to revamp casualty and memorial affairs activities in light of the Grenada experience and the bombings of the American Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon.
Investigating the Crash
The Canadian Aviation Safety Board's (CASB) extensive investigation of the crash of Arrow flight 1285 is not expected to be completed until early 1987. Preliminary findings indicate that the crash was likely caused by the unfortunate confluence of a number of factors, no one of which would have been sufficient to bring the plane down. These included icing on the wings, mechanical problems, and crew fatigue. Overweight conditions in the passenger compartment due to the large amount of carry-on luggage also might have been a factor. Passenger and carryon luggage weight was not determined prior to take-off at Cairo, but the Arrow flight crew had estimated that the average weight per passenger, including carryon luggage, was 170 pounds. The CASB calculations indicated that the average weight per passenger with carryon luggage was at least 220 pounds.
The implications for safety of the wide variance between estimated and actual passenger weights led the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to recommend, in February 1986, that the Department of Defense
develop a standard procedure and form for determining and documenting the actual weights of passengers, baggage, and cargo for the purpose of recording and conveying such weights to the flight-crews of commercial contract carriers of military personnel.
Prompted by the NTSB recommendation, the Military Airlift Command issued interim weight criteria guidance for charter flights. A "DOD Passenger Airline Policies and Procedures Review" issued in April 1986 confirmed the MAC action and proposed strong corrective measures for charter procedures employed by DOD, improved communications between DOD and agencies responsible for aviation safety, and additional resources for the Federal Aviation Administration so that it could carry out more effectively its oversight of air carriers.
The Army's response to the Gander tragedy and the loss of 248 of its own was characterized by a firm resolve to honor
fallen comrades and to minister to the needs of their bereaved families. In both respects the Army, aided by the willing support of its sister services, succeeded remarkably well. Of particular note was the effectiveness of the first Gander mission in establishing good rapport with Canadian authorities, thus assuring the early return of remains to U.S. soil and laying the groundwork for a successful return to Gander to complete recovery operations; the accomplishment of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology team at the Dover mortuary in identifying all the remains; the dedication of graves registration personnel at both Gander and Dover, who worked under conditions that were often trying and frustrating; the ability of the Casualty and Memorial Affairs Operations Center in handling the Campbell Family Support Center in meeting the needs of the victim's families; and the diligence, professionalism, and compassion exhibited by the Casualty Assistance Officers.
Of course, there were problems as well. Deficiencies in personnel for overseas replacement procedures resulted in the loss of health records, which were carried on the ill-fated flight contrary to Army regulations. The records had to be reconstituted, causing a delay in the identification process and additional anguish among the families of the deceased, some of whom were repeatedly called upon for information to aid in the identification effort. Inaccuracies in the Emergency Data Forms of the victims resulted in delays in notifying the next of kin and in other problems. Incompatible automated data processing systems delayed the timely transmission of data needed to support the identification process.
But in spite of these and other problems, the Army met the Gander tragedy with extraordinary caring and sensitivity. The words of former Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall seem appropriate:
There is no more effective way of creating better enemies for the Army than by failing to do everything we can possibly do at a time of bereavement. Nor is there a more effective way of making friends for the Army than by showing we are personally interested in every fatality which occurs.
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Last updated 17 November 2003