Tips for aviation accident research, part 2

By Mathieu Sabourin

In our previous blog post on civilian aviation accidents, we covered the main search principles for finding files on this topic in our archives. We showed you that records could generally be found in four record groups:

  • Department of National Defence fonds: R112 (1923–1936)
  • Department of Transport fonds: R184 (1936–1984)
  • Canadian Aviation Safety Board fonds: R13086 (1984–1989)
  • Transportation Safety Board of Canada fonds: R1009 (1990–present)

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of the first two record groups so you can better focus your searches.

Department of National Defence fonds

After the First World War, the Royal Canadian Air Force served as a civilian airline for the government and was therefore responsible for investigating aircraft accidents. The Civil Aviation Branch was created for this purpose in 1923.

At the time, the Department used a subject-block numeric classification system. Blocks 1021 and 1100 (all the files starting with these numbers) were reserved for aviation accident records. For example:

Screenshot of the results of an archives search. A big red arrow indicates the reference to Block 1021.

Example of a file from Block 1021.

Continue reading

Published Sources for Aviation Accident Reports

By Megan Butcher

In our previous blog post on searching for aviation accident reports, you learned that you need to know a few basic details before starting your search:

  • Aircraft model
  • Accident date and location
  • Aircraft registration number
  • Aircraft type (civilian or military)

This is a great starting point if you have those details already. But what if you don’t? There are a few different ways to find what you need.

To start with the most broadly accessible resources, while the following two databases aren’t exhaustive, they do include quite a number of Canadian aircraft accidents, including the first fatal accident in 1913:

Local newspapers can also be a great resource to find at least some of the details. You could start your newspaper research here at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) by checking out our microform holdings. If you aren’t able to visit us in Ottawa, you could contact your local library instead to see if they’re able to borrow the reels you need from us or another library.

If you’re still missing some important details, you may have some luck with the Canadian Aviation Safety Board annual reports and aircraft accident synopses. Most of the entries are very short, but sometimes they include a surprising amount of occasionally heartbreaking information:

A typewritten document on white paper giving details about an aircraft accident that occurred on September 8, 1978.

Synopsis of an aircraft accident from the annual report of the Canadian Aviation Safety Board, 1980, Issue 5, p 56 (AMICUS 2828768)

Our collection includes many issues from the following years:

  • 1967: Accidents to Canadian registered aircraft. Canadian Air Transportation Administration. Aircraft Accident Investigation Division. AMICUS 3236225
  • 1968-74: Aircraft accidents. Canadian Air Transportation Administration. Aircraft Accident Investigation Division. AMICUS 11371
  • 1975-84: Synopses of aircraft accidents; civil aircraft in Canada. AMICUS 2828768
  • 1984-89: Annual report. Canadian Aviation Safety Board.  AMICUS 5348822

There are also two other publications that we don’t have, but about which you could ask your local librarian:

  • 1947-1958: Canada. Civil Aviation Division. Annual report on aircraft accidents: 1947-1958. — [Ottawa], Dept. of Transport, Air Services Branch, Civil Aviation Division
  • 1960-1963: Canada. Civil Aviation Branch. A survey of accidents to aircraft of Canadian registry, 1959-1962. — Ottawa, [1960-1963]

If you find anything in our collection you’d like to see, you can view it onsite, request a reproduction, or talk to your local library about the possibility of borrowing it through our Loans to Other Institutions program

.And, as always, if you’re stumped and need help, don’t hesitate to ask us a question!


Megan Butcher is a Reference Librarian in Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Tips for aviation accident research

Let’s be honest: Finding information on a civil aviation accident is no small feat. In the federal government, organizational changes involving aviation accident management and the evolution of records classification are making the researcher’s task even harder.

But seek and, generally, ye shall find! So let’s look at how to go about researching an aviation accident effectively.

First, you need to have certain basic information on the accident you’re researching:

  • Aircraft model
  • Accident date and location
  • Aircraft registration number
  • Aircraft type (civilian or military)

This will make things easier, because the finding aids related to aviation accidents are put together based on that basic information.

You must then determine where the records you are looking for might be located, i.e., select the right record group. The following reference table will help guide your first steps:

Years of Responsibility Department Record Group Number
1923–1936 Department of National Defence

Civil Aviation Branch

RG24 / R112
1936–1984 Department of Transport
Air Services Branch (1936-1970)
Canadian Air Transportation Administration (1970-1985)
RG12 / R184
1984–1989 Canadian Aviation Safety Board R13086
1990–present Transportation Safety Board RG156 / R1009

Each record group is divided into series and sub-series. For each of those subdivisions, you will need to consult a finding aid to determine whether a file exists pertaining to your research topic. It is a painstaking process, but some aids are available online (for example, the accession “Aviation Accident Reports 1919-1977“—RG12), which narrows down the research that needs to be done at 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa.

Here are some things to take into consideration:

  • Two types of records pertain to accidents: the accident report and the occurrence investigation. They are not always filed in the same location, so you’ll have to check the entire record group to find them.
  • In the 1920s and 1930s, National Defence had the mandate to investigate accidents. Even if your research is on a civilian aircraft, consult RG24.
  • Your file could be located in the Central Registry (records originally stored in Ottawa) or in the regional registries (stored in the regions: Maritimes, Pacific, etc.).
  • Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection has gaps: we do not have all records pertaining to aviation accidents. Sometimes, a file simply does not exist.
  • Some records are still at the accession stage. They have been transferred to LAC but have not yet been processed by an archivist. If the description in our database contains a note to that effect, consult the links under the heading “Accession” (see “Scope and Content” in connection with the note “Please consult the related accessions”).

For example, here is a screenshot associated with the series Central Registry Files from the Transportation Safety Board fonds:

Screenshot showing that the files have indeed been acquired, but not yet processed.

List of accessions from Central Registry Files (RG156)

Each record group has its own challenges but the basic concepts explained here will help you to conduct your research effectively.