Ottawa, ON Jet Crashes Into Convent, May 1956
20 DIE AS JET HITS CONVENT.
16 TO 18 NUNS AND PRIEST ARE VICTIMS OF FIERY CRASH.
3 OTHERS INJURED CRITICALLY.
Ottawa (AP) -- A flaming jet fighter rocketed into a three-story Roman Catholic convent and exploded last night, bringing fiery death to an estimated 20 or more persons.
Preliminary surveys indicated the dead included 16 to 18 convalescent or aged nuns, their chaplain, the convent's laywoman cook and the two crewmen of the aircraft.
The bodies of three nuns and a priest were recovered early today from the fire-blackened rubble of the nunnery. Missing and presumed dead were 13 convalescent or aged nuns, the convent's laywoman cook and the two-man crew of the Royal Canadian Air Force fighter.
'Never Had A Chance'
"They never had a chance," said an eyewitness.
Three nuns were injured, one critically and about 20 escaped.
The Canadian air force CF100 plunged into a brick wall of the Villa St. Louis convent seven miles west of Ottawa and exploded with a clap heard 15 miles away.
"The whole building seemed to burst into flames at once," said Sister LOUISE AUGUSTE, a survivor.
"It was horrible. I think everyone on the top floor must have been burned. Many on the ground floor also were unable to get out. It happened so fast. The whole building seemed to go up like a torch."
Screams of the trapped shrilled from the blazing building. Some of the nuns fought their way through flames to safety.
At least one jumped. Rescuers saved others.
The two airmen were returning to the Ottawa's Uplands Airport after identifying an unknown aircraft. There was no indication what caused the crash.
Hours after the crash, coal stored in the convent basement still fed the fire. Fire-blackened walls and a 40-foot chimney remained standing. A warped steel fire escape clung crazily to one wall.
The convent, a rest home of the order of the Grey Nuns of the Cross, was located on the Ottawa River. It was valued at a million dollars.
Firemen rushed to the blazing building from nearby communities, the air force base and Ottawa. There was little they could do.
Crowds clogged the roads. Police kept thousands of onlookers a safe distance from the blaze.
The dead priest was the Rev. RICHARD WARD, 42, assistant to the Roman Catholic chaplain of the Canadian navy. He had been living at the convent and serving as chaplain to the nuns.
35 In Building.
The mother house in Ottawa said about 35 persons were in the building when the jet fighter rammed into it at 10:15 p.m. About 20 were recouperating from operations. Most had been in bed about two hours.
LAWRENCE BARBER, one of the first neighbors to reach the scene, estimated that 16 nuns escaped. Some were injured.
One nun was hospitalized in Eastview, Ont., with a back injury. Several others were reported in serious condition in Ottawa General Hospital.
The other survivors were driven to the order's mother house.
VERN AYHART, a neighbor, said he smashed in one window screen and helped pull out two nuns.
"I can hear the screams yet," he said.
Persons living nearby said the plane was afire when it rammed into the building. With perhaps 40 feet more altitude, it might have cleared the building and plunged into the Ottawa River, they said.
"I had just prepared to go to bed," said Sister LOUISE AUGUSTE.
"The plane made a terrific crash when it hit. At first I thought it was a bomb. Then the fuel from the plane seemed to spread all over the roof and the whole thing was afire."
"It could have been only a few minutes after the first great crash when the roof fell in. I had just time to run out and help out a few sisters who were disabled."
Chester Times Pennsylvania 1956-05-16