Born and raised in London Ontario, Bryan Hayter was 20 years old when he joined the Royal Canadian Navy on a seven-year short service commission in 1950. Training as a Naval Officer before training as a Carrier Pilot, Bryan went to Australia and New Zealand on HMCS Ontario as a midshipman. In the summer of 1951, he began pilot training at RCAF Station Centralia Ontario, followed by training at Lossiemouth, Scotland and Eglington, Ireland. It was here Bryan completed his first carrier landings at sea.

No training, however, could prepare Bryan for his experience aboard the HMCS Magnificent two years later – an experience which nearly became the worst peacetime disaster in history.

On September 16, 1953, the Magnificent sailed from Halifax to the North Atlantic to join a fleet of NATO ships and aircraft for a 19-day maritime maneuvers exercise dubbed Mariner. This was the largest NATO exercise ever held involving 300 ships, 1000 aircraft, and 500,000 servicemen from 9 NATO countries.

Bryan and 51 other pilots from the Magnificent, and American carriers Bennington and Wasp, launched aircraft in the early afternoon during good weather. Less than an hour in, an unexpected blanket of thick fog meant the aircraft were recalled. Only 10 managed to land. Attempts to talk down more planes using radar and radio were unsuccessful. The nearest landing field was an unmanned strip on the southern tip of Greenland, more than 700 kilometers away! Pilots had to circle and wait for an opportunity to bring their aircraft down.

As one of the 42 pilots remaining in the fog laden skies that day, Bryan documents his experience in his writing titled Blind Faith, A Magnificent Miracle at Sea. He wrote, “At 16:20 it was estimated the planes had enough fuel for another two hours. Plans for a mass ditching of aircraft were made. Boats were manned with picked crews, ropes were rigged to hang down over the side, life rafts were readied for slipping, the sick bay was prepared, and our two Padres were pacing up and down the flight deck praying for divine intervention.” 

Bryan and his fellow pilots began preparing to ditch their aircraft as a group. It was then decided they would head for the US Submarine Redfin, which was 16 kilometers west and had reported 2 miles of visibility. Just as they were headed west, there was a break in the fog and pilots could visibly make out ships. They were recalled and came down one by one on whichever carrier was easiest to reach. 

“As I was clearing the deck, I noticed an American Skyraider aircraft ahead of me. Any old port in storm, I guess!” Bryan recalled, “When I climbed out of the cockpit, my legs gave way and I slid off the wing into the arms of a group of cheering deck hands. One thoughtful deckhand thrust a tot of Navy rum into my trembling hands and as I slowly drank it down I felt the tension of all those hours in the air begin to ebb. The remaining aircraft came aboard safely. We had all made it. HALLELUJAH! And then the fog closed down again.”

All 42 planes successfully landed, even though their estimated fuel time had long since passed.

Blind Faith, and other stories of aviation history, are found online at,which includes photos like the one above with the caption: “Days later, the relieved and possibly still-hung-over pilot of the Bennington-based Skyraider gets ready to launch while Hayter and his Avengers warm up on the aft aircraft park.” Photo: RCN/DND

Following his seven years in the military, Bryan continued his aviation career, joining Kenting Helicopters in the 1950s. He also sold Beechcraft Airplanes in Canada, fought forest fires in British Columbia, and joined Coombs Aircraft in Denver, Colorado as Sales Manager. In 1990 Bryan retired as Vice President of Field Aviation in Toronto.

In late 2021, needing more support with day to day care, Bryan moved to Veterans Memorial Lodge.

On the morning of December 25, 2022, Bryan passed away. He leaves behind his beloved wife of 71 years, Margaret; their two daughters, Susan and Cheryl; and three grandchildren, as well as other cherished family and friends.

Like all Canadian veterans, Bryan gave up so much so that we can enjoy the freedom we have today. It was our honour to be able to serve Bryan during his time living at Broadmead Care.