REMEMBRANCE DAY: The indomitable Nora; how a Kelowna RCAF vet survived a plane crash that killed six

Kelowna-born Olive ‘Nora’ Perry survived a fatal plane crash near Port Hardy

Crash site at Port Hardy. (G. Cocker photo)

Crash site at Port Hardy. (G. Cocker photo)

K.A. Boehmer

Okanagan Military Museum

Kelowna born and raised, Olive ‘Nora’ Perry was working as a provincial recreation physical education instructor in Kelowna when she enlisted in the RCAF in September 1942.

Nora was posted to Patricia Bay on Vancouver Island, then to Trenton, Ont.

After a few years, she was granted leave to visit her family in Kelowna, after which her life took a drastic turn.

She was set to return to service aboard a Dakota RCAF DC3. After a stop at Port Hardy, the plane crashed on take-off killing six of the 14 service personnel aboard. A civilian pilot flying into Port Hardy who witnessed the crash said, “The pilot seemed to pull the plane straight up, trying to clear the trees. Then the plane turned over to one side, crashed into trees, broke up and exploded. The bodies of the dead and wounded passengers had fallen in a tangle of tree trunks and stumps or were blown there by the explosions.”

Nora awoke inside the plane with a broken arm and made her way out, aflame. Her head, face, hands, and legs suffered third degree burns.

Nora’s family was shocked by her bandaged appearance when they visited her in Vancouver. She was recommended for advance care in Toronto, which meant boarding the longest air ambulance flight of its kind in Canada. The plan for the 2,300-mile, 13.5 hour flight was a series of hops in a RCAF Lodestar transport plane.

The unpressurized, unheated cargo aircraft had beds, oxygen equipment, and seating installed to accommodate the doctor, nurse and patients. To stay warm, Nora wore a ‘pneumonia jacket’ that circulated hot water around her chest. Despite stormy weather, they landed safely.

Medical staff at the Christie Street Military Hospital worked to heal Nora’s burns. She had extensive skin grafts. By April 1945, when Nora’s mother came to visit her, most of her scalp and face were healing but she was still unable to walk. Through considerable pain, Nora’s cheerful spirit and confidence lifted everyone up.

She was released from the RCAF in January 1946 and started rehabilitation therapy to improve her strength and agility. She eventually practiced making various crafts, including woodwork, pottery, and jewelry during her 11 month General Handicrafts Diploma course at McGill University.

Later, Nora worked at the Bell Telephone Co. in Montreal and soon served as president of the social club for the 2,700 women employees of Bell. While raising a family, she competed in bowling, curling, and coached lawn bowling in provincial tournaments. She moved back to Kelowna to be nearer her family in 2002, and passed away there Oct. 21, 2004, at age 84. Nora overcame many challenges to lead a rich life.

KelownaRemembrance DayWorld War II