Posted by: munroja | April 30, 2015

Ellis Hancock, NL Forest Service

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J. Munro Interview with Ellis Hancock, July 14, Aspen Cove, NL

When Ellis graduated from high school, he worked for a few years before joining the Forest Service. First he was with the Post Office for a year, and then worked on the US Base at Stephenville for 1-2 years. Then he came back to Carmanville and went fishing for 3 summers. Arthur Smith was the District Ranger at Carmanville and he recruited Ellis for the Government Fire Patrol. After the 1961 fire season he was kept on staff with the Forest Service full time, at first based at Gander. He was working with Ches Howell in 1961, when the fires started. Leo Howell was on the Tower near Carmanville.

Helicopter Crash During 1961 Fires

Ellis and Sam Greening were the two Forest Service people on the S 55 Canadian Navy Helicopter when it crashed near the intersection of the main highway and the Ragged Harbour River. There was also the pilot, co-pilot, two crewmen, and one RCMP constable, from Fogo. They were bringing a load of fire equipment from Musgrave Harbour to Carmanville. The fire edge had gone past Musgrave Harbour but had not reached Carmanville, and they were trying to get three pump units (including cans of gas) there to protect the homes and people.

The  pilot had had no experience in working under these extreme conditions. He was flying low, following the road to Carmanville, and got confused in the smoke and flames and tried to fly out. (The air would have been very unstable as a result of the fire). The chopper tail section separated, (perhaps because of air turbulence causing a rotor blade to strike it), and the helicopter started to spin out of control. The spinning made the passengers (and perhaps the pilot) pass out. The chopper piled into the trees, and landed on it’s left side. When he came to, Ellis tried to get out but found the main exit door blocked by trees. He called to the co-pilot who was outside and he opened an emergency hatch on the right side of the machine.  Ellis and the co-pilot helped the others get out of the cabin. The co-pilot and Ellis were the only ones who could work after the crash. Ellis was never interviewed about the crash and never heard of an investigation. The only person who questioned them was Lal Parsons, an ex RAF Pilot who was the Director  the NL Red Cross. 

After the crash they got the three pump units out of the helicopter before it could burn, (which it did), and he and Wes Freake took a pickup load of three pumps, hose and gas and drove through the smoke and flames to Carmanville. When they got there, the outside of the truck was too hot to touch. For the rest of the summer of 1961, Ellis was teamed up with Wes Freake and they were on all the major fires that year.

Ellis was also involved with the Labrador fires, such as the 1964 Esker fires and the 1967 Central area fires. He didn’t like working in Labrador because of the flies, sweat and dirt.

After 1961, Ellis was on permanent staff with the Forest Service, based in Gander. They did fire patrol in the summer and forestry work in the winter. He worked with Wes Freake and Blackie Drover, Calvin Prince, etc., on the seed collecting operations. While stationed in Gander, he also worked with Wildlife Biologist Neil Payne on some of his projects.

Ellis went to Ranger School about 1962, the year after Dick Carroll. The Forest Service sent him with Joe Foley, Wally Sutton (Baie D’Espoir), Jim Newhook and a few others. After Ranger School he was posted to Carmanville District for a while, then to Lewisporte as District Ranger. Then he was based in Gander as Regional Ranger, and after Jesse Stead retired he finished up as a Forest Fire Specialist. He also had responsibility for regional building construction.

Ellis liked working for the Forest Service. There was a good group of people and  interesting and challenging work. He retired in 1988. He had two years of sick pay to use up and he had back problems.    

John Munro


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