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Soldiers to parachute into remote Alberta lake from old DC-3 to mark D-Day

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ABRAHAM LAKE, Alta. - A group of soldiers are to parachute out of a Second World War-era plane over Alberta on Thursday to commemorate the exploits of Canadian airborne troops on D-Day.

On June 6, 1944, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was part of a division that dropped behind German lines to support the landings of Allied forces on the beaches of Normandy, France.

To mark their service, 16 soldiers of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry plan to make a low-altitude jump from an old DC-3 transport plane into the freezing waters of Abraham Lake, near Banff National Park.

Capt. Christine Salt said with mountains nearby, the lake is the safest drop zone for the troops, who will be wearing wetsuits.

A group of veterans, including some former paratroopers, are to watch the drop from near a mountain named in honour of the battalion. The mountain is called Ex Coelis, which is Latin for "Out of the Clouds."

"This jump is in a remote area but it will still give people a chance to kind of connect to something that happened far away and a long time ago," Salt said. "It gives them something visible, something they can hear."

The DC-3 is an old Royal Air Force Douglas Dakota that actually flew on D-Day. It has since been refurbished and is now flown for commercial transport by Yellowknife-based Buffalo Airways.

On the night of June 5, 1944, 50 such aircraft transported the battalion from airfields in England to their drop zones over France. The Canadians jumped into the battle after 1 a.m. on June 6 — D-Day.

The troops were tasked with destroying a bridge over a key river and slowing German reinforcements from getting to the invasion beaches.

Markey McBryan of Buffalo Airways said the DC-3 will take off Thursday afternoon around 4 p.m. from an airfield near Red Deer and make a few passes over the lake to check the wind direction.

The PPCLI troops will then hook their parachutes onto a static line and jump from an altitude of between 500 metres and 700 metres at around 5:30 p.m., weather permitting.

McBryan said the aircraft, which was built in 1942, is a flying piece of history.

"She was part of the first wave of planes that went over and dropped paratroopers," he said. "Even though this event happened 70 years ago, it is still important."

A group of eight soldiers from the U.S. Army's First Special Forces Group are to make the parachute jump with the Canadians.

The Allied airborne forces that jumped on D-Day included troops from the U.S., Britain and Canada.

—By John Cotter in Edmonton

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