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Lost Canadian Banshee pilot remembered in Ottawa

By Joanna Calder, Royal Canadian Air Force Pubic Affairs – 

More than 25 members of Lieutenant Barry Troy’s family gathered in Ottawa recently to honour his memory and view artifacts related to the pilot’s fatal crash, which occurred in Florida more than 60 years ago.

The loss

On February 25, 1958, Lieutenant Troy, a pilot with the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN’s) VF-871 Squadron, was part of a group of four F2H-3 Banshees flying along the Florida coast from United States Naval Station Mayport. They were en route to a point south of Jacksonville Beach, where they would turn and head back to aircraft carrier Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Bonaventure, which was about 64 kilometres offshore.

Unexpectedly, a fog bank loomed ahead. The leader of the formation of fighters and the next two pilots turned right—westward towards land—and flew out of the fog bank within moments. Lieutenant Troy turned left—eastward, over the Atlantic Ocean—presumably because he wanted to avoid colliding with the aircraft in front of him in the blinding fog. He was flying low and fast, probably only 500 feet (152 metres) above the water.

He was never seen again.

At the time, a few items were recovered from the Atlantic Ocean about two miles (3.2 kilometres) east of Jacksonville Beach: some paper, his helmet, his shaving kit, and some fragments of wreckage. For six decades, nothing more was found.

The discovery

Last autumn, fierce hurricanes swept through the area. Following the storms, a Jacksonville park ranger, Mr. Zachary Johnson, investigated a bundle of debris near the high-water line on city beach.

The discovered items include an oxygen tank, a parachute, parachute cover and parachute harness, an inflatable life vest and life vest straps, and small pieces of the aircraft. Given the condition of the items, it is thought that the items may have been washed ashore at some point after the crash and buried beneath the dunes for years before being uncovered by the 2017 storms. From the NATO stock number on one of the items, he realized the bundle contained military items. And from the name stencilled on a life vest strap, the items were linked to Lieutenant Troy and contact was made with his family.

The Florida ceremony

Sixty years and one day after Lieutenant Troy vanished, representatives of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) took custody of the historic items at Mayport on February 26, 2018. Members of the RCAF, RCN and the United States Navy attended the ceremony, held only a few kilometres north of the location where Lieutenant Troy disappeared.

The ceremony was also an opportunity to thank Mr. Johnson and Officer Nolan Kea, of the Jacksonville Police Office (who held the items in secure custody after their discovery) for their commitment to ensuring the safety of the artifacts.

The Ottawa ceremony

A second ceremony was held at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa on April 27, 2018. More than 25 members of the Troy family, as well as representatives of the RCAF and RCN, gathered beside a Banshee aircraft in the museum’s Annex to honour and remember Lieutenant Troy. Mr. Dick Troy and his wife Pauline, who were present at the ceremony in Florida, were again honoured guests.

Some of the family members had never met before. “Barry, you’ve done something for us that maybe no one could have done except a magician!” remarked Mr. Troy.

He explained that when he received a telephone call in September 2017 from a Jacksonville reporter, wanting to know if he was Lieutenant Troy’s brother, it was the first he’d heard of the discovery. “This can’t be,” he said. “My knees buckled; I just couldn’t believe it.

“It was really a miracle that these things were found, so out of a tragedy like the fury of a hurricane, there was a good result.”

Lieutenant-General Mike Hood, Commander of the RCAF, welcomed the family, some of whom had travelled from as far away as California, British Columbia and Wisconsin. During the ceremony, he presented Mr. Dick Troy a piece of Lieutenant Troy’s Banshee (part of the wing fold mechanism), which was recovered on the Florida beach. Lieutenant Troy’s name and the words “lost at sea” are inscribed on his parents’ gravestone but, although a memorial service was held at the time he died, there were no remains to inter. The Troy family plan to bury the artifact in their parents’ grave plot.

“What a miracle it must have seemed when some of these artifacts were found by Park Ranger Zach Johnson,” Lieutenant-General Hood said. “I’m sure it was a very emotional time for you . . . For the sea to give back after so long and through the action of a hurricane, relics of a life lost at sea is, I suspect, extremely uncommon . . . miraculous.

“As we remember Lieutenant Troy,” he continued, “give thanks for his life and commemorate his loss, thank you for sharing him with us. I say this from the heart on behalf of all members of the Royal Canadian Air Force: we’re honoured to be here today to support you and be part of this significant ceremony. And I could not be prouder to be part of an organization that is bringing one of its own back.

“We honour you and your family, and that beautiful guy’s memory.”

Rear Admiral Gilles Couturier, Deputy Commander of the RCN, emphasized the importance of family in his remarks: the Troy family, the family of the RCAF and RCN, the family of sailors and aircrew on board a ship such as HMCS Bonaventure, and the family of all who serve together. “Whether you are members of Lieutenant Troy’s family or his Navy family, you are all welcome here today to say the same thing: ‘We haven’t forgotten. You are being remembered today and you will always be remembered.’

“And when we say that about Lieutenant Barry Troy,” he continued, “we know we are saying that about every one of our fallen sailors and aviators. So, to the entire Troy family, ‘Welcome back to the Navy family’.”

“My Mum and Dad grieved for years,” said Mr. Troy in Mayport. “He was our hero, our big brother. We lost him, and now we have him back in a way. So there’s some finality, a closure, to what happened 60 years ago,” said Mr. Troy.

The display in Shearwater

At the time of Lieutenant Troy’s death, maritime air was the responsibility of the RCN. Now, all Canadian Armed Forces aviation assets and missions, including Shearwater, fall under the RCAF. Both the Air Force and the Navy, therefore, consider Lieutenant Troy to be “one of their own.”

As the artifacts will eventually be displayed by the museum in Shearwater, which was Lieutenant Troy’s last posting, they have finally returned home.

This article was initially published in the Maple Leaf.

This post is also available in: Français (French)

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