1943 Yukon Nuggets
Gordon Yardley’s Bravery
They didn't give bravery awards to civilians back in the 1940s. If they did, three young men from Carcoss would have been sure winners.
October 16, 1943. Gordon Yardley finished breakfast, kissed his wife goodbye and walked down the road to the new house he was building in Carcross on the shores of Lake Bennett. He was working on the roof when he saw a large military aircraft coming in low over the lake. He could tell the plane was in trouble. Suddenly, it dropped into the lake. He watched in disbelief as men began scrambling out of the sinking plane.
Gordon jumped off the roof and raced down the beach to get his boat. George Simmons was racing down the beach, too. Both men jumped into the boat and headed for the crash scene several hundreds of feet from shore. An RCMP boat was also on the way. The first man they came to was underwater about six feet, but holding his hand up. Gordon reached down into the icy water and grabbed his hand while George Simmons held on to Gordon's ankles.
With one survivor in the boat, they raced to another thrashing in the water, pulled him into the boat, then headed for a third. Between the two boats, they pulled six American soldiers out of the icy waters.
Later the full story unfolded. A couple of officers had decided to test a Flying Fortress, one of the new four-engine B17 bombers that had undergone repairs in Whitehorse. Fifteen other military personnel went along for the ride. Flying over Lake Bennett, they ran into mechanical trouble and were attempting to land at the Carcross strip. Over the lake they feathered the plane's propellers too soon. The plane plunged into the lake, sinking in a matter of minutes. Some of the men who escaped the wreckage tried to swim to shore, but were overcome by the frigid waters. Eleven men drowned, but six were saved due to the heroic efforts of Gordon Yardley, George Simmons and RCMP constable Harold McDonald.
Later, Gordon supervised the salvage operation hauling the heavy plane out of seventy feet of water and up onto the sand beaches of Lake Bennett. The wings were taken off, and the wreckage was taken to Whitehorse, where it lay on the edge of the airfield for about six years before it was finally burned.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.