Merritt’s Lyle Saunders among those named on new memorial

By on March 8, 2017
NDP Leader John Horgan, Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness Naomi Yamamoto, Speaker Linda Reid, Lt. Governor Judith Guichon and Chris Kelly, president of the B.C. Search and Rescue Association, unveil monument at the B.C. legislature on Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Don Craig).

A monument recognizing the sacrifice of fallen search and rescue members has joined the Garden of Honour on the B.C. legislature grounds.

Last week search and rescue volunteers gathered from across B.C. and as far away as Saskatchewan for the unveiling of the monument, which bears the names of 17 search and rescue personnel who lost their lives during searches over the past 50 years.

The two Merritt men whose names are inscribed on the monument. (Herald files).

The two Merritt men whose names are inscribed on the monument. (Herald files).

Among the names are those of two Merritt men — pilot Lyle Saunders and spotter Gary Daniels who perished in a plane crash in July of 1967 while engaged in a search for a downed plane.

According to the Merritt Herald of the day, both men died “July 14 when their Piper-Cherokee plane crashed near the east gate of Manning Park, [1.5] miles from the Hope-Princeton Highway.”

Six military planes, two helicopters and a fleet of private planes spent five days search for them.

Saunders was born in Lacombe, Alta. in 1915, and was a resident of Merritt for 12 years.

He was the owner-operator of Saunders Lumber Co., part owner of the Grasslands Hotel and was instrumental in negotiating the relocation of the Merritt airstrip with Nicola Stock Farms.

He was survived by his wife and two children. Daniels was single.

In the fall of ‘67, the local airport was dubbed Saunders Field in his memory.

Gary Daniels, who was born in Kelowna in 1940, had lived in Merritt for two years after leaving the Royal Canadian Air Force in which he served for seven years. He worked for a time as a mechanic in town.

The Garden of Honour, on the south side of the B.C. legislature, has monuments for police, firefighters and paramedics who have died in the line of duty.

“Trained volunteers are the first and, sometimes, the only rescuers to arrive to help people in trouble,” said Chris Kelly, president of the B.C. Search and Rescue Association.

“This monument is a solemn reminder that despite extensive safety programs, their work can still be dangerous.”

With more than 4,400 search and rescue volunteers working in B.C., the risks continue daily. Naomi Yamamoto, minister of state for emergency preparedness, noted the recent successful search for 20-year-old Spencer Hunt after an extensive search near Nanaimo has a special significance.

Hunt is related to Reginald Richard Hunt and Alfred Benjamin Hunt, who were aboard a Provincial Emergency Program Air (PEP Air) flight that went down in 1970, killing all aboard.

Kelly said the monument was carved from 17,000 pounds of granite, symbolizing the 17 names inscribed on it.

In addition to the Hunts, they are:

  • Lyle Saunders, PEP Air, Merritt, 1967
  • Gary Daniels, PEP Air, 1967
  • Norman Wilson, PEP Air, Alert Bay, 1970
  • John Craig, PEP Air, Cranbrook, 1983
  • Bob McGregor, North Shore Rescue, 1989
  • Marcel Andrie, Lions Bay Search and Rescue, 1994
  • Bill Bing, PEP Air, Nelson, 1996
  • Sheilah Sweatman, Nelson Search and Rescue, 2011
  • Angie Nemeth, Halfmoon Bay, 2012
  • Victor E. Hanuse, PEP Air, Alert Bay, 1970
  • Cynthia Griffith, PEP Air, Cranbrook, 1983
  • Eric Buss, Bulkley Valley Search and Rescue, 1991
  • Rick Dendys, PEP Air, Nelson, 1996
  • Rick Ayotte, PEP Air, Nelson, 1996
  • Beatrice Sorensen, Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, Halfmoon Bay, 2012.

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