Greenwood base sabotage unsolved two decades later

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Greenwood base sabotage unsolved two decades later Empty Greenwood base sabotage unsolved two decades later

Post by Powergunner on Mon 18 Feb 2019, 1:17 pm

Ian Fairclough (
Published: Feb 18, 2019

Greenwood base sabotage unsolved two decades later B97884875Z.1_20190218094203_000GO2ND87D.1-1_large
Military police officers Cpl. Fred Schneider and Cpl. Mark Alford patrol a hangar that houses Aurora aircraft at 14 Wing Greenwood. Base officials say it will be some time before increased security measures will be scaled back. Ian Fairclough/Valley Bureau - Ian Fairclough

It was a tense time on the ground at 14 Wing Greenwood 20 years ago this week.

On Feb. 18, 1999, wires were found cut on an Aurora long-range patrol aircraft at the Valley base. Two days later, during the resulting inspection of the entire fleet at Greenwood, wires were found cut on a second aircraft.

An extensive, eight-month investigation followed, but the culprits were never identified.

The file status is listed as suspended, but the likelihood of it being solved now is low, the military says.

“The more time that goes, the more challenging it is to investigate,” said Maj. Jean-Marc Mercier, a spokesman for the Canadian Forces National Investigative Service. “It gets harder to find something, but sometimes we’re just one detail away from solving the whole thing. You never know.”

But right now, there’s no indication the file will become active again.

“There’s no new information in the file since it was suspended in November of ‘99,” Mercier said. “It’s not closed, it could be reopened at any time if something new comes up.”

Many of the people who would have been on the base in 1999 have long since retired or been transferred, leaving little memory of the incidents among the Greenwood community. That means less chance of people regularly talking about the cold case and jogging someone’s memory.

But that challenge could arise in any investigation on military bases, Mercier said.

“The military police are geared to investigate in those kinds of circumstances,” he said.

There have been no similar incidents at any air force base reported to NIS in the past 20 years, Mercier said.

“Some lessons were learned from this and actions were taken to make the surroundings safer so something like this wouldn’t happen again.”

The cut wires in one of the planes were connected to the radar. Those in the other were related to an unspecified system and the damage would have prevented the aircraft from taking off.

Retired air force colonel Brian Handley was the commanding officer at the base when the sabotage happened.

“Obviously, at the time, it was a bit of a shock, and an unpleasant one,” he said. “It created a certain amount of work for us trying to find out who had done it and why it had been done.”

The task force investigating the incidents had 17 members including NIS officers, RCMP members and military police at Greenwood.

In all, investigators interviewed 276 people.

“It was a massive effort on their part,” Handley said.

The situation likely had some people at the base on edge, he said.

“Different people probably had different reactions to it, but it didn’t stop our flying. No one came to me saying they were afraid to get on the airplane, but I would assume crews getting on the aircraft did a very thorough pre-flight check.”

The cut wiring didn’t create issues that would cause the planes to crash.

“We never had the sense that somebody was trying to do something that would have killed anyone. It strictly took the airplane out of action,” Handley said.

That brings up the question of motive for the incidents.

“If you got down to the messes I’m sure there were people putting forward all kinds of different theories,” Handley said. “I’m not sure the NIS ever came up with one, except somebody was dissatisfied, obviously. But why, what the particular reason was, I don’t think we ever had anything like that.”

The rest of the fleet of Auroras was cleared for flight over several weeks. But less than two weeks after the sabotage, a burned wiring bundle was found on a different Aurora after a training flight. Planes that had returned to service were grounded by Handley again.

Grounding the fleet over the burned wires was an unusual move, but made because of the earlier sabotage. Investigators found no link between the burned wires and those that had been cut, and deemed the burned wires an electrical issue.

The grounding was lifted the next day. Still, it was enough to fray some more nerves.

The sabotage also came four months after a fatal crash of Labrador helicopter from Greenwood, but that was deemed an accident. The cut wires on the Auroras weren’t suspected as being some kind of reaction to the crash.

“They were completely unrelated, the Labradors were part of 413 Squadron, as opposed to the Auroras, which were part of Maritime (Patrol) Squadron,” Handley said. “If it had been a wire bundle cut on a Hercules from 413 Squadron, I think it might have been a bigger (reaction).”

The sabotage resulted in tighter security at Greenwood and more restrictions on access to the planes.

In the months after, anyone needing to get into the planes for maintenance or other reasons had to sign out a key to enter the aircraft, which were locked at all times. The same policy was applied to all other aircraft at the base.

Military police patrols in the area around the Auroras -- already a restricted zone -- increased to 24-hour, around-the-clock for several months, and access to the area was tightened.

The patrols reverted the standard round, and the general security measures remain in place to this day. But they have evolved considerably over two decades, says the commanding officer of 14 Operations Support Squadron at the base.

Airfield security changed radically after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and air force bases were no exception, Lieut.-Col. Brent Vaino said in an emailed response.

“Airfield security regulations and procedures have been tightened several times, most recently with the issuance last year of a totally revamped (RCAF command) Order that specifies detailed security requirements for all aircraft at home and away,” he said. “It is safe to say that aircraft security has significantly tightened in the 20 years since this incident.”

He said new airfield access procedures, regulations, and physical infrastructure have all come into effect in the years since the sabotage of the Auroras.

“It is now considerably more difficult to get approved access to the airfield,” he said. Fencing, lighting, cameras and other security measures have all been built up significantly to prevent unauthorized access to aircraft parking areas.

“Personnel are generally more vigilant than they used to be as well; this is probably a sign of the times,” Vaino said.

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