54 years later, a Montserrat Defense Force officer recalls Pan Am crash recovery mission

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Above is the same model Boeing 707 aircraft that crashed into Montserrat's Chances Peak on September 17, 1965.

Fifty-four years later, the carnage remains vivid to William Duberry.

On September 17, 1965, Duberry was a budding cricket star and an officer with the Montserrat Defense Force. Only four years removed from school, he had ascended up the ranks to become a lieutenant and was assigned to train cadets at the Montserrat Secondary School.

But his next assignment would turn out to be the most unsettling of his military tenure.

“I remember that morning,” says Duberry, better known as Sugar Duberry. “It was rainy, dull and overcast. I was at my home in Cork Hill and had no idea what had happened until I heard a report on the radio.”

William Duberry is pictured during his early years with the Montserrat Defense Force.

The report stated that a Pan Am aircraft had crashed into Chances Peak in southern Montserrat, not far from the Soufriere Hills volcano that would erupt 30 years later and change Montserrat forever.

At about 7:24 a.m., Pan Am flight 292 – amid poor visibility and a fatal error in navigation – crashed into the side of the mountain, killing all 30 aboard (21 passengers, nine crew). Duberry and other Defense Force soldiers were tasked the following day with recovering the remains. They trekked Chances Peak by way of Broderick’s Estate, just above Trials Village. Some soldiers had gone to the crash site on Friday, but the rainy weather and muddy terrain hampered the mission.

“We went up thinking we were going to see a plane, but there was just a lot of bits and pieces,” Duberry says. “Part of the plane was down in a gorge. We saw burned-out trees. We saw torso sections, bodies with no head. After the whole recovery mission I didn’t eat meat for about five years.”

The plane, a Boeing 707 that had been in operation since December of 1957, had embarked from Le Lamentin Airport in Martinique and was headed to Antigua’s Coolidge Airport (now V.C. Bird International). From there it was bound for Saint Croix, then Puerto Rico, and finally New York City.

“The plane seemed to hit the mountain maybe a couple hundred feet from the summit,” Duberry says. “We found about four or five bodies and brought down the remains in body bags. One of the [soldiers] was bringing down a body that they believed was the captain, and the body bag slipped from his hand and went down the mountain.”

The body bag was eventually recovered.

A few days later, investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration arrived from the United States. Duberry and fellow soldiers had to escort them 3,002 feet back up the treacherous mountain. The climb was steep and rife with obstacles.

“Sometimes we would have to go ahead of the investigators and then throw back ropes and pull them up,” Duberry says. “The whole recovery was awful. It wasn’t for the faint-hearted. But we had a job to do and that’s what we did.”

Former Defense Force officer William “Sugar” Duberry in recent photo.

“The whole recovery was awful. It wasn’t for the faint-hearted. But we had a job to do and that’s what we did.”

A forensics team was also brought in to identify the bodies. Of the 30 victims, 15 were American – mostly residents of New York state – 10 were from Martinique, three were Canadian, and two from the Dominican Republic. Most of the remains were buried in the Plymouth Public Cemetery, with a large headstone featuring the names of the victims.

Although the crash was a tremendous tragedy, there is some solace in the fact only 30 people perished. For one, the plane did not crash in a populated area of Montserrat. Also, the aircraft could accommodate as many as 140 passengers but had only 21 because it was on the first leg of the trip.

As expected, the crash was the dominant news in Montserrat for 1965. In December of that year, calypsonian James Lee – also known as Daddy Murrain or “Tangler” – penned a popular song that memorialized the event. Below is an excerpt of the lyrics:

PAN AM CRASH (1965)

It was early one Friday morning,

The whole of Montserrat was sleeping,

It was early one Friday morning,

The whole of Montserrat was weeping,

When ah hear a shout,

A plane crash-landed on Chances Mount,

We tried to render assistance of every kind,

But the scene of the crash we just could not find,

We will never forget that morn,

The way how Montserrat did mourn,

When the people were dead . . . and gone


Below are the 30 victims of the Pan Am crash in 1965 in Montserrat:

Hugh Henderson (Captain)Janice ChrismanFrancesca LeGendre
John McNicol (1st Officer)Carol RoadhouseLillianne LeGendre
Hugh Miller (Navigator)Claude EmanuelChantal LeGendre
Norman Carlson (Engineer)Robert ElizabethPhillipe LeClerc
James Tarre (Purser)Janette ElizabethLilianne LeClerc
John Walsh (Purser)Angelo ElmundsiMaurice Pailles
Tove Johansen (Stewardess)Hortense ElmundsiGenevieve Pailles
Reidun Mykland (Stewardess)Marie FournierE.J. Shockley
Janet Green (Stewardess)Ferdinand La MontagneE.J. Wallen
Thomas CalvinMrs. Ferdinand La MontagneMrs. E.J. Wallen

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