View Full Version : The Narsarsuaq freighter

4th Sep 2003, 21:15
In the book "Fate Is The Hunter" Ernest Gann writes about a wrecked, half-submerged freighter half way up the correct fiord on the approach to Narsarsuaq, via the Simiutaq ndb/visual approach. A few days ago, a fellow PPRuNer and I briefly discussed this, and my curiousity has been piqued. Does anyone know the name of the ship, and how it came to be conveniently wrecked in the correct fiord?
This is a job for ORAC.

(CP, you may wish to relocate this thread to another forum).

6th Sep 2003, 03:44
I know some of the facts about the wreck, and somewhere I have a book which, as far as I remember, have the rest of the facts (I just can't find it right now!).

The freighter was hauling cryolite from the mine at Ivigtut (about 70 NM west of Narssarssuaq) to the USA. As I remember it, it was heading for Narssarssuaq to join a convoy when it hit one of the two submerged rocks next to the mountain called "the Iron" (for ironing clothes). This happened during the war in either 1942 or 1943. It just happened to sit solidly enough that it could be emptied of its cargo, which was needed in USA for the manufacturing of aluminium, and to stay there until some years ago. When it disappeared, I do not know, but when I was there in '95, it had gone.

I was on the wreck itself in '71 or '72.

If and when I find the book, I'll relay the missing facts, unless somebody beats me to it.

How are things at the 7 islands?


14th Sep 2003, 01:05
Hello LIN, thanks for that bit of information. :ok:
Sorry I took awhile to reply, I was away for a week.
Things are pretty damn slow around the 7 islands. A friend and I were jawing the other day, and came to the realization that every company we had ever flown for has gone out of business. :sad:

ATC Watcher
14th Sep 2003, 14:37
Sorry to hear the wreck is gone, was a good visual aid at the time.. but nowadays with GPS....
Is the Catalina wrek in the valley to the left just before turning to UAQ still there ? Also a good spot to remind that this is not the right valley !
I heard that both ICE and SAS have dropped UAQ from their schedules, so they only get the Dash7 now.....and the odd diversion...
I have made a 180 inside that fjord with a 727-100 with 8/8 at 500 feet , visi of 2-3 K and wind up to 70 Kts...with a GPWS shouting at you all the time, I was glad when we saw the open sea again I can tell you.
Who would like to divert to such a place anyway ?

19th May 2004, 20:26
A very recent visit to Narsarsuaq with a following boattrip through the fjord proved that the wreck has disappeared with no trace left.

The history of it - at least according to the sign at Narsarsuaq Museum - tells that the ship was built in 1939 as the S/S "Hertha Maersk" of 1890 BRT. Impressed into US service, it was renamed the S/S "Montrose" transporting cryolite from the mine in Ivigtut, Greenland, to the US. It ran aground in the fjord on July 6th 1942.

Nobody I asked could tell when it disappeared. My own guess is that it was probably moved by the ice ans eventually quietly slid down the side of the reef.

I hope this cleared up the story?

Right now, the runway is very short due to repairs being made, but normally GLA (Air Greenland) runs a service a couple of times weekly with a B.757-200 all round the year, so it's not down to just Dash-7 and the odd ferry-flight...

I recollect a diversion in early 1970 when a BE80 called at night asking for diversion due to fuel. The night was crystal-clear and he was overhead with lights in sight. After the necessary half hour to put out goose-necks on the runway, I told him to start his descent - keeping the runway in sight at all times - and he made an uneventful landing, just to be frightened discovering the mountains the next morning!!! It is not a joke, but the facts" His only map was a Jeppesen chart (about A4 size) covering the whole of the North Atlantic and only showing coastlines, so he thought the terrain was flat!

MSA to the SW is 7000 and to the NE 11000 FT!


Flying Lawyer
19th May 2004, 21:16
The freighter was barely visible in 1989 - just the top of a mast protruding from the water and a shadow below the surface.

I'd read Louise Sacchi's superb book 'Ocean Flying' thoroughly before embarking across the pond and expected the wreck to be the prominent confirmation (of being in the correct fjord for the airfield) which she described. It was no doubt prominent when she wrote the book - 10 years earlier.
We were lucky with the weather so, even in those pre-GPS days, it didn't matter - but if the weather hadn't been as good we might well have missed it.

Louise Sacchi made about 350 ocean crossings, Atlantic and Pacific, in single and multiengine aircraft. They even named a street in Gander after her - "Sacchi Avenue".
I'd recommend her book to anyone thinking of crossing the Atlantic in a light aircraft, or interested in reading about it.

Here's a picture of the airfield I found on the net. My pics are pre-digital.



PPRuNe Pop
19th May 2004, 21:52
I flew over it in 1980 on my way up the fjord from Goose in a Bandeirante at 12,000 feet. I saw more of it than most have described when it was obviously a very much a useful aid. Very rusty of course but still visible.

Clearly its navigational usefulness was well known, but reading about it in Fate is the Hunter gives it some added glamour when you actually see it.

Co-incidentally, I have just started reading the book for the 7th time - but I haven't got to that bit yet!

20th May 2004, 02:24
Let me know when you get to the part where McGuire does the two-engine-out approach with a C-87. The actual location was Fort Chimo. I have the let down chart - albeit a later edition - for the range approach to that airport. I'll post it here if you wish.

20th May 2004, 07:36
Fate is the Hunter

Lucky to escape the Hunter at Narsarsuaq when I was bold and not so old!

This thread triggered the memory cells and some may find the following extract from memoirs of interest.. Never did see the wreck but then I didn't know it was there.

The extract is part of a ferry flight from Edmonton to Brough UK. The Beverley had completed cold trials at Cold Lake 1956.

The base at Goose Bay is on the southern shore of a large bay which was still partially frozen over. High snow drifts, formed by snow ploughs and blowers, extended down each side of the runways. These were slowly melting. Goose Bay is in the middle of nowhere and only accessible in the winter by air. A USAF squadron of Scorpion fighters based here formed part of the Dewline northern air defences of North America.

Our next stop was to be a World War 2 staging airfield called Bluey West One situated on the southern end of Greenland near the small town of Narsarsuak. This airfield could normally only be reached by flying about 35 miles up a fiord which had, at its entrance, a small island on which there was a radio beacon. There was a fork in the fiord about 10 miles in and it was mandatory that one take the right hand fork. To do otherwise and go to the left was most often disastrous as this arm of the fiord came to an abrupt narrow end where an aircraft was unable to turn back. Terrain in the area went up to about 10,000 feet forming huge forbidding cliffs.

All crews departing Goose Bay for Bluey West One had to be briefed on the hazards of the area and certified as having seen a movie of the correct fiord penetration.

The spare rudder booster unit arrived on a civil airline flight and was soon fitted. We were then ready to go. But the weather had other ideas. For several days the weather was too bad to launch. Eventually, I could see about a 60 per cent chance of making it into Bluey West so decided to give it a go. Topped up with fuel, I had about 15 hours endurance, enough to get to destination and return to Goose Bay with some reserve.

We were in or over cloud most of the way until reaching the radio beacon on the island off the southern tip of Greenland. I did a DF let down on the beacon and broke through a cloud base of about 4,000 ft. A vast variety of ice bergs and broken ice flows testified to the still cold conditions outside. I soon found the fiord entrance which was about 10 miles across, rapidly narrowing down to a gloomy looking tunnel. Vertical cliffs on each side disappeared up into the cloud. Huge ice bergs abounded and were of amazing colours at the violet end of the spectrum.

After flying up the tunnel for about 20 miles, I became wary lest we be trapped by the occasional snow showers which we encountered. Soon we encountered one of these snow showers completely blocking off the tunnel. I had no option but to turn around and hope that another snow shower had not developed behind us. But none had. I had the Navigator advise me on how much time we could spend in the area before going back to Goose Bay. This worked out to be about one hour.

I decided to climb up through the cloud and if I could top the cloud, home in on the beacon at Bluey West. We climbed into the clear at about 11,000 feet and soon had over the top indications. Very close to overhead, we flew over a hole, through which we could see the fiord and part of the airfield. The hole was about 1/2 mile across and opened out lower down like an inverted cone.

After transiting the hole a few times to get a feel for changing conditions, I could see that a snow storm was over most of the airfield but the approach end of the runway projected about 3,000 ft out of the snow. If I was quick, I knew I could put the Beverley on the visible portion of the runway which ran on up close to a cliff face. There was no going around again on this airfield. Nor was there to be any escape from the hole once I had penetrated into it by more than about 2,000 feet without the high risk of hitting some of the peaks buried in the cloud. It was the daddy of all sucker holes.

I knew I could do it but I had 27 passengers and crew to think about. I ventured a little into the hole, above safety height, for a better look before climbing back out again. The air traffic controllers in the tower couldn't assist as there was nil visibility from the tower through heavy snow.

It was just all too inviting and I announced my intention to land off a rapid descent. I reduced power to idle, reduced speed and dropped full flap. I selected full engine RPM, to get maximum braking from the huge props, and soon had a high rate of descent established. Runway length visible to me was now down to about 2,000 ft and slowly diminishing.

All went well until we reached about 4,000 ft. The aircraft had been cold soaked at the higher altitudes and was now penetrating very moist air. White circles of ice started to grow from the centres of the front windows where the glass must have been coldest. Judging the rate of growth of the ice patches, I could see that, by the time of intended touchdown, I may not be able to see at all. I called for windscreen de-icing. The engineer leaned past my right shoulder to reach and turn on the main switch for the alcohol spray de-icer pump. I waited expectantly for the spray to commence as I lined up on what was left of the runway. Now at about 1,500 ft I was looking through about one inch of glass near the lower frame, with my head bending low over the control column.

The engineer advised having checked the de-icer system circuit breaker and that it did not appear to be serviceable. I yelled for him to grab the fire axe and be prepared to knock out my front window on command. Someone produced a pair of goggles and tried to fit them around my forehead. I was intent on judging our one-shot only approach, peering through my slit of glass now less than 1/2 inch deep.

Speed and approach angle was working out well and as I rounded out over what appeared to be a couple of tennis court lengths of visible runway the glass became completely white. I could feel some ground effect as I called, "Brace yourselves." It was an anti-climax. The touch down was a greaser, only indicated by the slight rumbling of the wheels as we rolled up into the snow covered parts of the runway. I kept straight on instruments and used maximum braking and reverse thrust until airspeed was no longer indicating. Soon after I felt the discontinuity of deceleration as we stopped. No one could see out of the aircraft, until a door was opened to reveal we were still on the runway. Heavy snow continued falling.

The controller in the tower had sounded the crash alarm, fully expecting us to have come to grief and was almost as relieved as were we to be in one piece. I left the aircraft heaters running and closed down the engines. It took about 20 minutes for airfield vehicles to find us in the snow. Soon after the snow shower had subsided enough for me to start a couple of engines and taxy clear of the runway and on to a dispersal.

By now, we had determined why the windscreen de-icer had not worked. I asked the engineer what setting he had selected on the rheostat for the pump motor. He said "What rheostat ?" I said "That one" pointing to a rheostat on the side of the console behind me. It was set to Minimum/off. I had incorrectly assumed that he knew about the rheostat. Sometimes little things like that become incredibly important.

The weather clamped again and the 'tunnel' down the fiord closed off. A couple of amphibians were based here and their task was to recce the fiord whenever the weather was marginal. It was the next day before a recce showed conditions had improved. We were comfortable in the well equipped quarters and Officers' Club. I walked around the base a bit but couldn't go far because of the snow. It never became darker that twilight at this lattitude and time of the year. I decided to launch for Keflavik in Iceland at about 1800 hrs. We took off at about 2100 hrs local time. The flight down the fiord tunnel was absolutely fascinating in the half light.

I had to do a GCA approach at Keflavik at about 0400 hrs. There was a small gale blowing with teaming rain mixed with sleet. We all had a good breakfast while the aircraft was being refuelled. I did not see much of Iceland, except for the airfield in the dark.

Next stop was Prestwick for further refuelling, Customs and another meal. We were getting a bit weary by now but by popular choice decided to press on to the end of the trip. This was to be Blackburn's little narrow strip at their factory near the town of Brough.

I had refrained from using propellor braking during landings after Bluey West One so at Brough on a relatively short runway I selected full-power reverse on all four engines. Taxiing, I soon found, by a rapidly rising engine oil temperature, that No 2 prop had stuck in reverse. I had to stop to close down that engine, before oil temperatures went too high. Another propellor brush housing had failed. Never a dull moment in a Beverley! We were a weary lot who disembarked from Beverley No 262. From Edmonton, Canada to Brough in England involved nearly 28 flying hours.

Flying Lawyer
20th May 2004, 13:05
Very interesting.
Thanks for posting. :ok:

SS Herta Maersk before she was seized by the Coast Guard in 1941 under the Ship Requisition Act and re-named the SS Montrose

SS Montrose hit a submerged rock in Skovfjord, 6 July 1942

The Fjord Approach is spectacular - provided conditions are good. The airfield advises pilots pilots without a knowledge of the area and good met conditions not to attempt to approach Narsarsuaq through the fjords unless the ceiling is at least 4.000ft and flight visibility at least 5 sm (8 km).

There is sometimes severe turbulence and windshear in vicinity of the airport, particularly to the south of the field.

There can't be many airfields in the world where pilots are warned about a large iceberg on the approach! ;)


20th May 2004, 19:05
Fascinating story Milt

I had rather better weather than you did and could see Narsaq long before we were to descend. Perspective in the fijord was breathtaking. Assessing distance was no longer an art it was nigh impossible. Flying alongside the vertical mountains gave the impression that a slight adjustment would cause you to lose a lot of paint, when the distance was around 5 miles! The glacier was 11 miles away I think(?) and the airfield turned out to be most welcoming. 1hr 30 later we were on our way again also tracking the beacon on the southern tip of Greenland. 'Prinz Christensund' NDB I seem to remember. Then off to Keflavik, Prestwick and Biggin.

Another memory of the trip was the foul weather at Goose, blinding snow, no-where to go, but got in with a fabulous and beautifully controlled GCA. I was so glad I had trained for them in my early days.

A great trip.