Best known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” the tiny, subarctic town of Churchill, Manitoba, on the shore of Hudson Bay, is also home to a plane crash site that has become a beloved local attraction. The wreckage of the cargo plane is just off a scenic road along the Bay between the Churchill municipal airport and town. The crash site is a popular backdrop for photography and an excellent viewing location for the Aurora Borealis that frequently illuminates Churchill’s night sky.
Miss Piggy is a Curtiss C-46 Commando plane operated by Lamb Air as a cargo plane after the aircraft retired from service in World War II. It was nicknamed “Miss Piggy” because of the tremendous capacity of its cargo load as it hauled goods and supplies to and from remote areas of Northern Manitoba. It was also rumored to have once transported a cargo of pigs.
The plane crashed on the morning of November 13, 1979, moments after leaving Churchill Airport en route to Chesterfield Inlet with a load of soft drinks and a snowmobile. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot noticed a rise in oil temperature and a drop in oil pressure in engine No. 1. He turned the plane and attempted to return to Churchill Airport. The aircraft couldn’t hold altitude and made a forced crash landing several kilometers short of the runway.
While descending, the plane sheared the tops off several trees and took down power lines, causing a temporary blackout in Churchill. Miss Piggy came to rest on a rocky outcropping of boulders, and its wreckage, including a broken wing, remains there today. The pilot and crew miraculously survived the crash, although the pilot and one crew member were seriously injured. They all managed to deplane and walked back to the airport before help arrived.
Although vandalized over the years, the plane remains largely intact. The left wing is broken in half, and the windows and doors are missing. A few plane parts lie scattered on the ground. The cargo bay is empty with a wooden floor, but the remains of instruments are still visible in the cockpit. The plane’s body, including the cockpit and wings, may be climbed and explored.
In June 2017, Miss Piggy’s exterior became the canvas for a mural as part of the SeaWalls Churchill project. The public art initiative features outdoor murals placed throughout Churchill by 18 artists, and it intends to bring attention to the struggles of the remote town nestled on the western edge of Hudson Bay. Miss Piggy’s mural is appropriately entitled “Mayday – EMERGENCY TRANSMISSION: 58°45’37”N 94°5’11”W.”
Painted by American artist Pat Perry, the mural features images of human and animal skulls and bones surrounded by blooming flowers. Perry intended the piece to be a statement on the economic decline and desolation of places like Churchill and the artist’s hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Perry wrote, “It is with my utmost humility that I ask for understanding and grace from the people of Churchill as to why I couldn’t make something more cheery on the beloved Miss Piggy plane wreck, and it is my greatest wish that you find a sincere expression of solidarity in the artwork I’ve made.”