Bonaventure: The invisible giant!

It was accompanied by five destroyer escorts,
the Aircraft Carrier Bonaventure.
In total, those ships accounted for a gigantic amount of naval
manned in total by several thousand sailors and
air force pilots. It was there to 
support the rescue,
which it did superbly. Thanks to the Canadian Navy!

Virtually none of the survivors had a chance to see this key player in the rescue of Flying Tiger 923, and many had no idea that it was there at all. The nearly invisible, but vital, player was the Canadian Aircraft Carrier Bonaventure.

The Bonaventure

The Bonnie

The Bonaventure intercepted the SOS from the crippled aircraft, however it was several hours behind the Swiss Freighter Celerina. None-the-less, the “Bonnie” changed course and headed to the crash scene.

At the time of intercepting the SOS, the Bonaventure was steaming east toward Rotterdam with five destroyer escourts: the Crescent, Athabaskar, Cayuga, Mirmac and Nootka. The carrier, with escort Athabaskin, immediately altered course toward the scene of the disaster. Aircraft from the Bonnie were over the search area shortly after dawn on Sept. 24 and the two Canadian warships (the Bonaventure and Athabaskin) reached the scene about noon on that same day.

Other ships, which had been closer to the scene were searching in vain hope of recovering survivors. About 10 ships in total were participating in the search, including a number of weather ships.

An immediate requirement for survivors, upon reaching the Swiss rescue ship Celerina, was for medical attention for survivors. Fortunately for the survivors, a medical doctor was one of the survivors himself, Air Force Capt Juan Figueroa-Longo, who immediately began administering medical attention even though he had lost his eyeglasses in the crash and had only the few medical supplies he could find on the Celerina.

The Bonnie delivered much needed supplies and a Canadian medical team flown via helicopter from the carrier to the Celerina. It was found that the injuries of four survivors were such that they needed immediate hospital attention.

The Bonaventure

The Bonnie

Those flown that day from the Celerina included: Flying Tiger 923 Captain John Murray; Army Major C.R.Elander and his wife, Lola, suffering with a broken back, and Army Lieut. Col. George Dent. In addition, three bodies of those who died on the raft with the 48 survivors were transferred to the Bonaventure.

The Bonnie remained on the scene with two weather ships, one of which, the Juliett, had nine bodies aboard, in addition to the three from the rescue ship. The Celerina proceeded on her voyage to Antwerp with the remaining 44 survivors.

The disaster area was lashed by strong winds and high seas all day on the day of the transfers. In all, that stormy afternoon, the Bonaventure’s rescue helicopters made 13 trips to the Celerina under difficult conditions. From time-to-time, rain showers reduced visibility and sea swells ranged from 10 to 12 feet. The Bonaventure proceeded toward land and transferred four injured survivors, including the aircraft captain, and 12 bodies recovered up to that point to Shannon Airport, where they were greeted by the appropriate medical and mortuary teams.

Once the Swiss Rescue Ship Celerina reached the Irish coast near Cork, two yellow British Royal Ambulance Helicopters were used in transferring passengers the 28 miles to the Cork Airport, and then on to Mercy Hospital.

HMCS Bonaventure

Canadian Aircraft Carrier HMCS Bonaventure

In all, the rescue during the first two days involved many ships, aircraft and helicopters. For all practical purposes, the rescue operation was truly an international effort, with all players providing a minimum of 110% effort.

[Editorial note: Relatively few of the survivors were aware that Canada had a naval fleet, much less an aircraft carrier. It was our good luck that Canada did and was available  for assistance.]

HMCS Bonaventure was designated as a  “Majestic class” light class aircraft carrier. She served in the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Forces Maritime Command from 1957 to 1970 and was the third and the last aircraft carrier to serve Canada. The ship was laid down for the British Royal Navy as HMS Powerful in November 1943. At the end of World War II, all work on the ship was suspended in 1946. At the time of purchase of the uncompleted ship from the British by the Canadians, it was decided to incorporate new aircraft carrier technologies into the design. Bonaventure—named after Bonaventure Island, a bird sanctuary in the Gulf of St. Lawrence—was commissioned into the Canadian Navy upon completion of its refit and modernization on 17 January 1957.The Bonaventure never saw action during her career, having only peripheral, non-combat roles. However, she was involved in a major NATO fleet-at-sea patrol during the Cuban Missile Crisis shortly after its role in Flight 923 rescue operations.

The involvement of the Bonaventure and its facilities around Flying Tiger 923 was the period from September 23 to approximately September 27.

In 1966 the carrier docked in Quebec for a mid-life refit. This second refit took 18 months and cost $11 million. After the 1968 unification of the Canadian armed services, the Bonaventure was decommissioned in Halifax, on 3 July 1970, and was scrapped in Taiwan in 1971. Components from Bonaventure’s steam catapult were used to rebuild the catapult aboard Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melborne.

Here are a few Bonaventure statistics: displacement: 16,000 ton, 19,920 ton with full load; Dimensions: length,19202 meters (629.9 feet); width, 24.38 meters (79.9 feet); crew, 1,200, nickname: “The Bonnie”. The flight decks were not built for new jet aircraft and many refused to try to land on it, which is part of the reason the ship was rebuilt in 1968 and scrapped in 1971. However, it provided an heroic  service to the survivors of Flying Tiger 923.

About Fred Caruso

Survivor of the crash of Flying Tiger 923. at night, at sea, 500 miles off the west coast of Ireland, with 28 deaths and 48 survivors, September 23, 1962.
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33 Responses to Bonaventure: The invisible giant!

  1. Ellen Caruso says:

    Fred, these stories are amazing! I’m so impressed that your own personal story “Born Again Irish” has opened the door for others to contribute to the saga of Flying Tiger 923. — Ellen Caruso

    • KEES SMIT says:

      I was a sailor aboard the HMCS Bonaventure.I am so pleased to read about this event after all these years.One of my duties aboard this ship was to do guard duty of the remains brought aboard.

      • I was a outside machinery watch keeper on Bonnie at that time. During rounds I monitored the temperature in the port potato locker where the bodies were kept. The temp was maintained at 0 f to prevent decay. All survivers were in sick bay. There were no watchkeepers on the dodies.

  2. brian says:

    looking for the year when three officers were killed in a fire on the ship?

  3. My father was Chief Cook aboard the Bonnie then. As to the fire, are you thinking of the fire aboard HMCS Kootenay in April 1969 which the the Bonnie was instrumental in saving?

  4. Pingback: Allied armed services weigh in heavily on FT923 search and rescue | Flying Tiger 923

  5. Robert Campbell says:

    I was posted to the Bonaventure three years after the Flying Tiger accident. Men I worked with were onboard at the time of the rescue efforts and told many anecdotal stories concerning the ship’s role in the rescue/recovery efforts. One point about the story on this site – Bonaventure did not have Air Force pilots on board. Canada had a Fleet Air Arm in those days and the pilots on Bonnie were Naval Officers, the Aircrewmen were RCN ratings.
    Robert N Campbell

  6. Ken King Kincardine, Ontario Canada says:

    I was a crew member of the Bonaventure at the time.I was a flight deck electrician on the Bonnie. I remember the situation quite well. I think the highlight was watching our two rescue helicopters, namely Pedro and Fallen Angel transferring survivors and deceased from the Celerina to the Bonnie The pilots had to align themselves between the masts of the Celerina and adjusting their machines to match the heaving seas which were quite rough at the time. Quite feat to say the least. After treating the injured survivors, we sailed for Shannon,Ireland and transferred the survivors and deceased to the Shannon airport for transfer back to the United States.

  7. Pingback: Reader comments generate new leads and information. | Flying Tiger 923

  8. John Henry Ball says:

    Jserved on both Magnificent and Bonaventure as well as a short stint on Buckingham with HS50
    Helicopter squadron..Proud and exciting time It is so good to see info on Bonaventure .Young people are largely not aware of our military.I was on the goofing sponson when the Tracker slid off the flight deck. We were in Davis Straight and the deck was a bit slippery. That flight had several bags of incoming mail so we were really keeping our fingers crossed.that flight deck crew got it back on board.The fflight crew were retrieved first of course. Seldom a dull moment on an operational carrier.I suppose not too many of my age are still active. I turn 81 August 25. Very much like to hear from Young or old . Still got salt on my collar I guess.

    • Fred Caruso says:

      We have had many comments from crew members. Must be you all got some salt in your collars!

    • Kees Smit says:

      John,i served on the “Bonnie” at the that time also.I served in the arrester gear control room.I remember being a bit anxious having a plane dangling from a wire over the ocean,but it held…Sad that not more people couldn’t be recovered.

    • maurice dignard says:

      I am to happy to say I still know a couple pilots from the Bonny,,Willard Long Lt,,(Willy) and a Lt commander by the nick name of Tex,,had to retire because of vision issue’s. Willard was very close to disregarding an order when he was in a position to sink a Russian U-boat during the Cuban Missile Crisis He was ordered to take out and then ordered to stand down, he had his hand on the button and recalls they had to tell him repeatedly he barely made it back to the Bonny being very short on fuel with fumes he landed and he came so close to starting something very serious! People will never know how close we came to one Pilot putting the world into a catastrophic nuclear response had he disregarded his orders to stand down.

  9. Kelli says:

    Does anyone remember Jim Kennedy who was from Ontario, he would have been on the Bonnie in 1963.

  10. Lynn Pidgeon says:

    My Dad Douglas Pidgeon served on the Bonnie.

    • Robert Campbell says:

      Hello Lynn, I served on Margaree with your dad in 1971/72. We lived in 4 Mess. At the time I remember he was getting ready to retire and take on management of a motel in Bridgewater. Robert Campbell, Greenwood, NS

  11. FID says:


  12. Gerald Hardwick March 2016
    I was aboard on the Bonny when terrible accident happened . I was in the boiler room when we were called for full ahead , Why in this rough sea ? , We were informed when our shift was over what was happening

  13. Gerald Hardwick RCN retired. Search & Rescue of flight 923 If you like more information about the HMCS Bonaventure how it was involved in the rescue . .We had several injured in our sickbay Try

    I was aboard the Bonny at the time .

  14. Gerald Hardwick says:


  15. Jim Marshall says:

    I was aboard HMCS NOOTKA at that time and had a good buddy aboard the BONNIE.

  16. Thomas Ansell says:

    I was on watch in Radio One when the SOS came through. Captain Frewer gave the order to turn around and head for the crash site at our best possible speed and we launched aircraft as soon as possible. The sea was fairly rough and it must have been difficult for the helo pilots to transfer survivors and the dead aboard. I remember it like yesterday. It’s something you don’t forget.

  17. Joe Daws-Knowles says:

    I sailed on “Bonnie” in 1961 as VS880 Squadron Paywriter from January to April. Os

  18. Durwin says:

    ABRM Durwin Hunt Penticton BC Was OD right out of Com Sch to Albro Lake Radio Stn. Remember working Bonnie re this crash. Story I remember was a plea went out to crew of Bonnie for women’s clothing that they might be taking home to their wives. there were some female survivors with some pretty fancy underwear

  19. Art Gilbreth says:

    I would like you to correct this article about the HMS Bonaventure and the survivors of Flying Tiger Flight 923. I was a survivor of flight 923 and I was transferred to the HMS Bonaventure by helicopter. I had several crushed vertebrae in my back and a chunk torn out of my right leg ( which became gangrene from gasoline, salt water and rubber burns.) I have been called a liar from people I told I was transferred to the Bonaventure. Maybe it was because I was not an officer that I wasn’t visited by the Captain like the other survivors were, plus a couple had dinner with the Captain. Don’t get me wrong those people deserved being treated like they were. In my book they were all heroic in their efforts to help everyone the could!! My story is on the “ Flying Tiger flight 923 website under “ Out of Body experience”.

    • Ken King says:

      Art. it was HMCS Bonaventure, not HMS. Bonaventure was a Canadian aircraft carrier/ It was Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Bonaventure.

  20. Beverley Chabot says:

    My father was also on noard the Bonnie when the ship responded to the SOS. He said he would never forget and he never did.

    • Art Gilbreth says:

      I was unable to read the rest of Beverley’s article because the page wouldn’t allow me to continue.
      I was one of the 4 transferred to the Bonaventure by helicopter. That was another adventure. Swinging 150 feet below the helicopter with the storm below during the day so you could see what you were not able to at night. By the time I got to the hospital in England they discovered I had a couple fractures in my spine and gangrene in my leg because of an open wound , salt water, gasoline and rubber burns . I have not been able to thank the crew for the excellent care they gave me during my stay on the ship . Also I want to thank the fellow that brought me a small dish of fruit cocktail because I was so hungry and had not eaten in a couple of days and that was the only thing they said they had that I was allowed to have. However I was not happy when after finishing it they turned back on the stomach pump that had been pumping out all the salt water I had swallowed!!

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