On the morning of 12 December 1985, at 0645 local time (0515 EST), Arrow Airlines flight 1285, a DC-8-63 charter carrying 248 passengers and a crew of eight, crashed just after takeoff from Gander International Airport, Gander, Newfoundland. All on board perished. The postcrash fire, fed by the contents of the stricken aircraft's full fuel tanks, took local firefighters nearly four hours to bring under control and approximately thirty hours to completely extinguish. The firefighters were hampered in their efforts because of the rugged terrain, which initially prevented more than one fire truck at a time from being used.
The passengers on the ill-fated charter were U.S. soldiers. All but twelve were members of 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), most of whom were from the 3d Battalion, 502d Infantry; eleven were from other Forces Command units; and one was a CID agent from the Criminal Investigations Command. They were returning to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home station of the 101st Airborne Division, after completing a six-month tour of duty in the Sinai with the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO). This international peacekeeping organization, made up of contingents from ten nations, had been established under terms of a protocol between Egypt and Israel signed on 3 August 1981. The MFO has had the mission of implementing security provisions contained in the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
Perhaps no other event in its peacetime history has so wrenched the soul and torn at the heart of the U.S. Army as the Gander tragedy, which ranked as the worst military air disaster in the nation's history. But in spite of its grief, the Army moved quickly in responding to the tragedy.