Canadian Pacific Airlines Flight 108

Canadian Pacific Airlines Douglas DC-3 CF-CUA photographed at Bagotville, Quebec by Guy Allard; August 1947.  (Jacques Trempe collection | 1000aircraftphotos.com)

Canadian Pacific Airlines Douglas DC-3A-360/C-47 (CF-CUA c/n 4518) photographed at Bagotville, Quebec by Guy Allard; August 1947. (Jacques Trempe collection | 1000aircraftphotos.com)

This aircraft, along with its 19 passengers and 4 crew, was destroyed sixty years ago today by an explosive device placed in the No. 1 forward baggage hold.  The explosive was crude but effective; several sticks of dynamite with an alarm clock as timer.  It had been set to detonate while the aircraft was over the St. Lawrence River—rendering accident investigation difficult given the methods of the time—but a 5-minute delay leaving Québec City left the aircraft over dry land when it exploded.  It was the world’s third—and deadliest—act of airline terrorism.

The perpetrator was 32-year-old Joseph-Albert Guay, a watch and jewellry salesman with a faltering business and faltering marriage.  His relationship with his wife, 28-year-old Rita Morel, was stormy at best; eventually she and their 5-year-old daughter moved back to her mother’s home.  Divorce was rare in 1940s Québec, or so we are told.  Guay, meanwhile, dated 17-year-old waitress Marie-Ange Robitaille; but she dumped him when she found out he was already married.  Guay then resolved to kill his wife, initially by poison, but then settled on an air tragedy instead; he took out a $10,000 travel insurance policy on Morel.

Lacking the skills to contruct the weapon himself, Guay asked clockmaker Généreux Ruest to build a timed explosive with dynamite, batteries and an alarm clock.  Ruest got his sister, Marguerite Pitre, to buy the dynamite from a hardware store; she was also the one to deliver the disguised bomb (as air freight) to the aircraft on that fateful day.  Guay enticed his wife to make the trip by asking her to fly to Baie Comeau to pick up a box of jewellery on his behalf.

Flight 108 had originated in Montréal and made a brief stopover in Québec City, where Mrs. Morel boarded.  Mrs. Pitre arrived at the airfield via taxi, insisting that her suspiciously overweight package go aboard.  As the plane was already starting up, the clerk relented and rushed it aboard.  The aircraft left at 10:25 local time, and went down 20 minutes later near Sault-au-Cochon, 70 kilometres north of Québec City.

Investigation initially focused on the unidentified mystery shipper, who was later identified as Pitre.  When police began questioning her, Guay encouraged Pitre to take her own life, implying that she would be prime suspect and suffer the greatest punishment.  Pitre did make a botched attempt at suicide, and while recovering in hospital, confessed the details of the plot to police.

All three conspirators were found guilty and eventually executed for their crime.  Joseph-Albert Guay was hanged on Jan. 19, 1951 in the Bordeaux Jail, outside Montreal.  Généreux Ruest, who was crippled by tuberculosis and used a wheelchair, was hanged in July of 1952.  Pitre maintained her innocence and appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, but was ultimately unsuccessful.  She was the thirteenth and last woman executed in Canada, on January 9th, 1953.

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