Just after midnight on the morning of February 19, 1956, my crew and I took off from RCAF Comox, B.C. Our destination was Ocean Station Papa (a Met ship stationed 300 miles off the west coast of Vancouver Island).
After climbing over the mountains I let down to 1500 ft. and set heading. Not only was it dark but we were also in solid cloud (situation normal). About 200 miles out #4 engine (stb. outer) suddenly exploded and burned with a great shower of flames and sparks. Co-pilot F/O Erickson feathered the propeller and activated the fire extinguisher which in short order put out the fire. The Radio Officer informed Operations of what had happened and in order to return to base the normal route I began our climb to 10,000 ft. to get over the mountains into Comox. There was absolutely no problem. I'm sure we could have done it on two engines. The Lanc is a superb aircraft.
While climbing to altitude, the Radio Officer received a message from Operations suggesting that we return by descending and flying around the south end of the island instead of returning over "the top." I instructed him to inform Ops that all was well and we would maintain course.
At this point the flight became one of the more memorable in my 22 years as an RCAF pilot. Everything was quite normal. It was a dirty black rainy foggy night and communications were difficult. I received another message from Ops which directed me to return via the low level circuit around the island.
So I let down to 1,000 ft. and headed south. Moments later we lost all communications, Loran and ADF! As far as navigation went, we were blind. The Navigator gave me a course to clear the island and F/O Erickson kept up a continuous SOS on R.T. Response came from Nea Bay (US Search & Rescue) who suggested they send out an aircraft with all lights flashing to guide us. They were airborne in 15 minutes and we then had someone to talk to. They stayed at 1,000 ft. and we went to 300ft. Suddenly we saw the lights of Vancouver, which meant we were in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. In a few moments the ADF came back on and communications suddenly were re-established with Comox. With a ceiling still only 400 ft, I did a GCA approach.
In retrospect, maybe the incident was not really all that important. Perhaps the real story is the incredible Lancaster. In this story it was 159. She performed superbly!
After 5:20 hours of flight I parked on the tarmac and cut the engines. We all sat for several minutes and said nothing. I'm sure we were all thanking the old girl for bringing us safely home.