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Events in Gander -- An Overview

Prelude: Soldiers in the Sinai

Troop Movement and Security

Post-Crash Investigation

The Toxicology Reports: Burned Alive

Arms to Iran: Enter One Oliver North

The Governments' Lines


List of Sources

Gander: The Untold Story

The Toxicology Reports: Burned Alive

The crash of the Gander flight posed a particular problem for recovery and examination of the bodies of the deceased. Colonel Robert McMeekin, director of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) received notification of the accident at 6:30 a.m. on the morning of December 12. He arrived in Gander at 3:30 p.m. that day. The role of the AFIP was solely identification of U.S. personnel. Under a Memorandum of Understanding signed by Canadian and U.S. officials, the RCMP agreed to release the bodies of the victims to the United States for identification and pathological examination. Any toxicology samples would be taken and shipped to Canada for testing; no testing was to be done in the U.S. Thus, the bodies were moved to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for examination. (7:355) The examination and x-rays revealed that none of the bodies showed any signs of a pre-impact explosion. All deaths were listed as "instantaneous" and due to "plane crash." According to many pathologists, an accident cannot be listed as a cause of death, but only as a contributor to death. Actual death can only be by decapitation, etc. Listing the deaths as "instantaneous" would appease many of the families -- that is, until the Elcombe report was released.

Dr. David Elcombe, director of the Canadian Aviation Safety Board (CASB), released the Canadians' toxicological findings on March 5, 1986, although they were not presented at any public hearings. These results presented problems for the "instantaneous" death theory posed by Dr. McMeekin. The consensus between the two governments was that there was no pre-impact explosion. Therefore the story went something like this: everyone was alive, then several seconds later, all aboard perished immediately when the plane contacted the ground as a result of wing icing, and erupted in a ball of fire. This is where Dr. Elcombe's findings pose a problem. Many of the bodies contained high levels of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, both products of combustion. (1:37-38) An accepted guideline used by pathologists is that these products cannot enter the tissue of the body by any means other than respiration. So according to Dr. Elcombe, 256 people who died "instantaneously" have high levels of combustion products which they would have had to have inhaled. To make this important piece of evidence fit into the accepted "no explosion" theory, the survival time after the crash was increased from zero seconds to almost five minutes. The families were being asked to deal with the nightmarish possibility that their loved ones sat living, within a fiery inferno of jet fuel for almost five minutes. Interestingly, many of the bodies that had high levels of combustion products in their lungs were also decapitated, yet according to the official report, they somehow kept breathing five minutes after being dismembered. This could be exactly why Dr. Elcombe sent a memo to Dr. McMeekin dated June 20, 1986 stating: "Some of the carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide values are striking ... and I look forward to meeting with you ... to consider their significance." (2:167)

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