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New Hampshire woman planning summer pilgrimage to visit site of brother’s death in Gander

Linda Eastman and her daughter Catherine will be travelling to Gander later this month to honour Linda’s brother Mike Eastman who died in the Arrow Flight 1285 crash in December 1985
Linda Eastman and her daughter Catherine will be travelling to Gander later this month to honour Linda’s brother Mike Eastman who died in the Arrow Flight 1285 crash in December 1985 - Contributed

When Linda Eastman thinks of her brother Mike, often her mind will move to a point in time decades earlier than 2019.  

['Contributed photo<br />Captain Michael Eastman, aged 34, was one of the victims of the Arrow Air Crash in Gander in December, 1985']
['Contributed photo
Captain Michael Eastman, aged 34, was one of the victims of the Arrow Air Crash in Gander in December, 1985']

It is there she remembers a time when she and Mike were sitting at the dinner table with their significant others when he asked his sister if she wanted to go to the cemetery. 

She agreed and off the two went. 

Hopping in the old pickup truck, the pair headed toward one of the many cemeteries that existed near their homes in New Hampshire. 

To Linda’s surprise, the truck continued a little ways past the entrance to this particular cemetery and instead turned down an old dirt road that ran alongside. 

A little ways down the road, Mike brought the truck to a stop. He got out and did something he had been doing for some time. 

Mike started piling rocks in an attempt to rebuild a section of a rock wall that had fallen. The wall ran alongside the cemetery and Linda questioned why her brother was putting it back together. 

“I know these people aren’t our family, but they’re someone’s family and they deserved to be honoured,” he answered. 

Moving forward more than four decades from that exchange and Linda is taking those words with here later this month when she and her daughter Catherine visit Gander for the first time since the Arrow Air Flight 1285 aviation disaster in December 1985. 

Captain Michael Eastman was one of the 248 American servicemen and eight crew members who died when in the plane crash. They were heading to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. They were a part of the 101st Airborne Division had just served a six-month peacekeeping mission on the Sinai Peninsula in the Middle East.  

Her brother was one of the lucky ones, so to speak. He was at the front of the airplane when it crashed on the shores of Gander Lake and his body was mostly intact. He was able to be identified. 

Most, if not all, of the rest were incinerated on impact. 

Echoing her brother, Linda will be making sure to honour those whose family can’t be there. She will serve as proxy for the family members of those who died who can’t make the trip to this province and the Silent Witness Memorial site just a couple of kilometres outside of Gander. 

The devastating incident wasn’t the first connection Eastman and her family had with the Newfoundland community or the province as a whole. 

Her uncle flew out of Gander during his service time and another relative of hers served with the United States Navy at the base in Argentia, Placentia Bay. 

Linda was living in Vancouver, B.C. when she got the call about the crash. She immediately headed to the airport in search of the first available flight to Kentucky and Fort Campbell. 

When she arrived there, she met people from the Town of Gander. They were representatives of the town and did their best to comfort the loved ones of those who perished in the incident. 

She met more from the community at the inquiry into the crash. Linda was living in Ottawa at the time and was afforded the opportunity to go. 

This trip will be culmination of a plan to get to Gander and Newfoundland for the better part of three decades. 

There is a saying that when you make plans, God laughs and Eastman is familiar with it. 

Her daughter Catherine always said they’d would go to Gander together. She was 12 the first time she said it. 

And, this year they’ve pledged to get to the community. 

For Linda, this won’t be a sad trip. She plans on taking pictures, speaking to people who may have helped at the crash site and in the days that followed and representing those connected to the victims that can’t make the trip.  

“They treated our soldiers like family members,” said Linda. “I just want to say thank you. 

“I am going to be happy. Mike would have loved this.” 

nicholas.mercer@thecentralvoice.ca 

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