May 13 memorial service will mark 50th anniversary of Wegner Point tragedy

By Lisa Brazeau

Posted on Thursday, May 3, 2018


May 8 is the 50th anniversary of the worst peacetime training accident in Canadian military history.

At 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 13, the seven paratroopers who drowned in the Ottawa River just off Wegner Point half a century ago will be honoured at a special service at the Wegner Point memorial cairn near the 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron heliport.

Master Warrant Officer Reginald Riddell, Warrant Officer Michael McDonnell, Corporal (Cpl) Bruce Chiswell, Cpl Hugh Fields, Cpl Bob Knight, Cpl Dennis Clements, and Cpl Jim Misener lost their lives when a routine night drop went tragically wrong. When the first 26 soldiers dispatched from the Buffalo aircraft that evening in 1968, a severe wind sheer propelled them off course from their anticipated drop zone (DZ) on the Mattawa Plains. Twenty-two landed in the river and despite rescue efforts, seven never made it to shore.

They had all served in the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment and the 2 Airborne Signal Troop of 2 Signal Squadron.

It’s a dark chapter in Garrison Petawawa history that should always be remembered, said service organizer Dennis Stow.

“I was on the DZ when it happened, and … I had promised some of the family members that it would not be forgotten,” he said. “It did happen in Petawawa on home ground, and it was the worst single training accident in Canada. It was an unprecedented loss of life.”

To mark the milestone year, Stow is expecting between 100 and 150 to attend the service, including friends and family members of the fallen soldiers. Among them will be Cpl Fields’ son Steven, Cpl Knight’s four daughters Susanne Price, Patty Beek, Chrissy Knight and Cathy Storey, and Cpl Chiswell’s daughter Kim Guest.

“We’re also expecting quite a few people who were jumpers and friends of those who passed away,” noted Stow.

He admits that as the years march on, fewer and fewer survivors and their comrades are able attend.

“It is my hope that someone else will take this on in the future,” he said. “We should not forget them.”

In addition, Stow expects representatives from Garrison Petawawa and the Town of Petawawa, the Airborne Regiment Association of Canada (ARAC), the Canadian Airborne Forces Association (CAFA), 1st and 3rd Battalions of the Royal Canadian Regiment, 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Headquarters and Signal Squadron, as well as Royal Canadian Legion Branch 517 Petawawa and 72 Pembroke to attend the ceremony.

Members of the public are also welcome.

The route to Wegner Point off Passchendaele Road will be well marked. Visitors are asked to arrive no later than 10:30 a.m. Following the service, a reception will be held at the Reichwald Warrant Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess.

For more information about the ceremonies, contact Dennis Stow at 613-732-4477, or email dennis_stow@hotmail.com.

Donations are also gratefully accepted to cover the cost of service programs and lunch.