Remembering a national tragedy: the Morne Prosper accident

The corner and memorial on the Morne Prosper road today
The corner and memorial on the Morne Prosper road where the accident took place

Today 40 years ago Dominica suffered its worst road tragedy when a truck plunged over a precipice in Morne Prosper.

On 21 May 1975, an overloaded passenger truck departed from the village with some 35 pilgrims aboard, bound for a Pentecostal “Christ is the Answer” crusade at Windsor Park in Roseau.

Minutes later it got out of control on the hill before a sharp bend on the Morne Prosper road and shot over a precipice.

Thirty men, women and children were hurled to their deaths.

Throughout the night and the next day, police, firemen, Defence Force personnel and volunteers searched for victims among trees and branches on the cliff face. Bodies were loaded onto trucks and taken to the Red Cross Headquarters on Federation Drive, Goodwill, where they were laid out for identification and preparation for burial.

It must be remembered that in those days there were no funeral homes and burials had to take place within 24 hours of death, if not earlier. Prisoners worked feverishly all day to make enough coffins out of whatever wood was available.

The following afternoon on 22 May, two huge funerals were held in Roseau, one at the Roman Catholic Cathedral and the other at the Pentecostal Church.

Individual graves could not be dug in time so excavating machines dug out two long trenches, one in the public cemetery and the other in the Catholic cemetery, to lay the coffins and then covered them all together.

As many as nine members of the Deschamps family died on that terrible night, including the truck driver, Lennox. The list of victims as published in the press at the time was as follows:

Magdalene Deschamps
Ivinia Deschamps
Paulina Deschamps
Everad Deschamps
Claudia Deschamps
Cynthia Deschamps
Lennox Deschamps
Isaline Deschamps
Orius Deschamps
Marvline Isles
Casimir Isles
Desmond Isles
Valda Isles
Lindy Isles
Gwendolyn Isles
Lambert Opha
Matilda Opha
Agatha Timothy
Mona Timothy
Reginald Timothy
Norwills Joseph
Utina Charles
Vernon Jno. Baptiste
Joania Maxime
Sonia Jean-Jacques
Steve Bruno
McLean John
Mary Joseph

Battered bodies from Morne Prosper accident at Red Cross Headquarters, 22 May 1975. (Photo from New Chronicle, 24 May 1975)..jpgBattered bodies from Morne Prosper accident at Red Cross Headquarters, 22 May 1975. (Photo from New Chronicle, 24 May 1975)
Battered bodies from Morne Prosper accident at Red Cross Headquarters, 22 May 1975.
Bodies from the Morne Prosper tragedy laid out at Red Cross Headquarters, 22 May 1975. (From New Chronicle, 24 May 1975
Bodies from the Morne Prosper tragedy laid out at Red Cross Headquarters, 22 May 1975. (From New Chronicle, 24 May 1975
Curious spectators looking over the cliff on the Morne Prosper road where the accident occurred. (New Chronicle, 24 May 1975)
Curious spectators looking over the cliff on the Morne Prosper road where the accident occurred. (New Chronicle, 24 May 1975)

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37 Comments

  1. Setup
    May 22, 2015

    I knew some of them, because they used to come and buy groceries from our shop. The youngest girl in the accident was in my class in primary school. I could not eat anything after I heard what happened, especially, my school mate. I remember one of the women was pregnant. As a children, I kept thinking about the unborn baby. It took many years for me to go up Morne Prosper. It was very hard, for me to go up there and whenever I drive past the area, I always remember the accident. All these years later, it is so sad. May their souls rest in peace.

  2. grell
    May 22, 2015

    Sad and may all their souls continue to rest in the almighty,he knows why he called them home,YET governments have come and gone and the present one continue to get rich of the poor people and to this day not a guard rail has been installed.I heard one of the survivors speaking and he lost 6 sisters,My friend my prayers are always with you.God will continue to guide you.

  3. professor
    May 22, 2015

    may the souls of those who lost their lives continue to rest in peace. I know of one survivor of this tragedy and I thank God everyday for life. I also pray that some sort of work be undertaken to make these roads safer. I have not been to Morne Prosper in over twenty years not because of the conditions of the roads. I do hope with this anniversary some sort of memorial will be erected as well as guard rails along this part of the road .

  4. May 22, 2015

    cont…
    respect. What’s disrespectful about viewing a dead body even if the dead is unknowing to viewer. Some of you have it so back to front it’s not funny.

  5. May 22, 2015

    I also can recall that sad and dreadful day. I can only hope that the deceased love ones have moved on since what else can be done.
    I have a few issues with some of the comments.The person who commented on everyone viewing the bodies since there were no funeral homes at the time. And some dignity for the dead. First it was a tragedy that many if not most of us had never witness before,and so the entire country was in a very somber mode. So many of us attended the mass state funerals,even if some had never knew them personally,it was as if they were our brothers,sisters,friends or some close relative. In other words that disaster united the country even if it was for that moment.
    On the issue of dignity for the dead.I don’t know when you’ll people will get it right.When someone is dead the person is dead.That’s the end of it all.We need to stop having it back to front.The person is alive,we forever ready to curse them out,show no kind of respect.When dead,we talk of dignity and…

  6. 268/767
    May 22, 2015

    oh boy as a child my mom told me of this tragedy so so sad just looking at the pics aches my heart continue to sleep on

  7. The Facts
    May 22, 2015

    Practically a few entire families were wiped out. How sad! How did the mothers, fathers and other relatives cope? Only God knew.
    Just imagine the suffering, the pain and the cries of the victims. What a grief to bear. This is when the sleep of death came as a relief for them, having immensely suffered.
    They believed in God. Our Lord said, “Those who believe in him will not be put to shame.”
    Christians should know what that word “shame” means. It means, they will not go down to the netherworld – Hell because they believed in him.
    All praise, honor and glory be to God who forgives our frailties, once we call on him. I am certain they all called out to him to have mercy on them and save them.
    God bless their souls.

    A short, efficacious prayer I remember from childhood which I try to remember to pray as often as I possibly could:

    Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, once in agony, have pity on the dying.

    Especially Catholics, try to pray it. Remind others.

  8. May 21, 2015

    @UserName May 21, 2015–“40 years has past and the road condition still the same”

    And why is this so? Because we the people no desire to help ourselves; we leave the responsibility to our Government to do everything, but how that be?

    If the people of Morne Prosper, was focused on helping themselves, I can imagine the number of Palm Trees and flowered trees that would be blocking the way into those precipices, 40 years later–after that tragic accident

    Not only that it gives more beauty to Dominica, but it would feel safer travelling our roads. But no! We choose to make all sorts of demands form the government–not considering the financial costs that is never replaced–with that kind of attitude, Dominica cannot get anywhere.

    When I read a “Salisbury Farmer”, saying that he played Domino all day instead of being at his farm–claiming that someone named “John” sort of revived him into reality –considering what took place in Salisbury, this to me is deplorable!

  9. Francisco Telemaque
    May 21, 2015

    While we remember, let us not forget the kind hearted people such as Dr. Watty M.D., and a few others who volunteered and adapted some children whose parents parents perished in the accident.

    Those were the days when Dominicans loved and care for each other; There was no child abuse, nor homeless people in Dominica in that era!

    What a difference forty years make!

  10. May 21, 2015

    I sorry for the accident tragedy the morne prosper accident

  11. UserName
    May 21, 2015

    40 years has past and the road condition still the same. A project was started how many moons ago and still cannot be completed. This recent photo of the tragic area is a testimony to the observation. When will the Morne Prosper road be completed in its fullest. We are aware of the efforts but sadly, the most dangerous areas on this road still in desperate need of repair… and after this is done can work start of the Wotten Waven road.

  12. Meg So
    May 21, 2015

    I remember that incident so very well. I lived in Goodwill and followed the sirens to Casualty and went to view the bodies the following day at the Red Cross. I still remember the smell of death and to this day, I have never been to Morne Prosper. I hope they are resting in peace.

  13. Ann
    May 21, 2015

    An Awful day for Dominica. Such treacherous roads, so many people dying. And 40 years later, has anything been done to the countless roads that have precipice edges?
    Looking at the pictures of the deceased on the front page of the paper, and hearing that people visited the morgue, reminds me that things would not be so now. The dead would be shown respect and be covered up, and only family members allowed in to identify them.

  14. Saddened
    May 21, 2015

    Thanks DNO for the memories of such a sad day in our history. I shall never forget that day when this horrible tragedy occurred. In those days there was no internet, so most of us heard about the tragedy the following day via the air waves. I remember going up to the Red Cross the following morning, before proceeding to school, just to have a glimpse of the deceased who were all laid on the floor at the Red Cross. I shall never forget that day. It is sad that a proper memorial was never erected at the site where the accident occurred and that guardrails were never placed around the dangerous corner up to this day. It is also sad that such a tragic event in our history was never documented. May they continue to rest in peace and I pray that their love ones and survivors find comfort 40 years later.

  15. May 21, 2015

    Must have been a very sad day for Dominica and the individual families. Anyone know what happened to the other passengers who did not die? Did anyone survive with only minor injuries. And what about those with serious injuries and who were taken to the hospital, Did they survive? How are they doing now, Must be terrible to relived this tragedy for the families.

    May their souls and the souls of All the faithful departed continue to rest in peace.

    • Morne Prosper
      May 21, 2015

      Yes it is very sad to recall the memories of this tragic day. The eight survivors and the families of the victims had to carry on with their lives as best as they could. Ma Madonna now deceased lost SIX daughters in that accident. Can you imagine what that must have done to her and the rest of the family? One of the survivor, George Winston lost a leg in that accident. He walks with clutches and is usually seen around Roseau. The saddest part of this is for the numerous children that grew up without their mother and or father. We give thanks to God for the relatives who took them on and raised them up the best they could with the little they had. The memories of this day will remain with we the people of Morne Prosper for as long as we live. I was young at the time of the accident, my parents told me about it and to this day, every time I drive pass Lescale (the area of the road the accident happened) I remember the tragedy that took place there.

      May their souls rest in peace.

      • The Facts
        May 21, 2015

        A terrible accident and very sad memories. Imagine what the victims went through.
        It is not something that will ever be forgotten by especially the people of Morne Prosper.
        I picture the shock, heartache, the weeping and grieving of relatives, friends and others in Morne Prosper for years.
        Reading about it and viewing their bodies, it is like relieving that fateful day.
        Whenever you pass that area, I suppose you say a prayer or two for their souls and also for drivers as you and passengers who must go through that area.
        God bless those who took care of their children.
        Moments as these everyone comes together in love to help and support each other.
        We pray that their souls are resting in peace.
        Words are not enough to express my feelings.

    • Erickson Fabien
      May 22, 2015

      Very good questions, Doubting Thomas!! It would be interesting to do a video documentary following up on the lives of those who survived.

  16. Concerned Dominican
    May 21, 2015

    I remember that incident though I was very young! However, I must say that our people, both you as DNO as well as others commenting on radio, must be more sensitive than they are being at this time! I would be very, very upset at the descriptions being given and the photos now being displayed as it must be painful, even today, for those who were directly affected by this tragic event. Please, DNO, lead the way and be more sensitive towards those family members who were affected

    • The Facts
      May 21, 2015

      Not everyone share your sentiments. Many were not yet born; some were too young and some did not see the pictures then. At least, it gives them a view of what really happened on that fateful day.
      Some people are stronger than you. Your strength comes in worship and prayers. Do not waste time complaining.
      As you viewed the pictures, you should have said a prayer. Even though they have passed on long ago and we cannot bring them back, there is nothing wrong in saying a prayer for the victims and the few who survived and are still alive..
      God hears prayers and He will do with them as He will. You are even the recipient of your prayers which help and protect you.
      Prayers said are never in vain; not where our Loving, Compassionate, Merciful and Forgiving God is concerned.

  17. faceup
    May 21, 2015

    I remember that day, living in Goodwill St Aroma hearing the sirens of the ambulances etc
    coming from the Goodwill back road next day went to see the bodies out of curiosity, that stayed in my mind for a very long time, I was so tormented after what I saw, I failed a subject at school the following day. Wow!

    • The Facts
      May 21, 2015

      Hoped you made up for it and passed. :) You also went out of compassion.
      Whenever I hear of accidental deaths or in whatever other manner, be it through the Media, I say an Eternal rest for the departed souls.
      I expect you are a Catholic. I also bless them with Holy Water. I have a leaflet about that “Holy Water – Spiritual Wealth” which I got when I attended a Catholic pilgrimage. It is stated you can bless anyone, near and far. I was happy to read that. Ever since I got it, I have been making copies and distributed some, also to those who have lost loved ones. My family and friends in D/ca and elsewhere have all received copies.
      Generally, every night I bless the souls with Holy Water. I also bless Dominica and where I reside – Toronto. All of Canada in general and the rest of the world.
      I inform those I know to make frequent use of the Holy Water.. It gives much peace and tranquility. Thanks be to God!
      God bless you and your family!

  18. May 21, 2015

    The Dominica Labour Party expresses our deepest sympathy and extend sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of those beloved Dominicans who lost their lives in this massive tragedy. Although it is now 40 years later the memories, hurt and pain still lingers for the survivors. Be assured that Dominica grieves with you. This a tragedy that affected the entire nation. As we honor those who lost their lives let us not forget the survivors and loved-ones who are still suffering and saddened by this unfortunate accident.

  19. princess
    May 21, 2015

    May they continue to rest in perfect peace

  20. regie
    May 21, 2015

    Very sad day in d/a history.I remember skipping classes and visiting both the site and the morgue and it’s a memory that can never be erased.Sad to say i have never travelled that road after that accident.May the victims continue to rest in eternal peace and the families find comfort in each other and the most high.

  21. MAN KIND
    May 21, 2015

    A VERY SAD DAY INDEED

  22. Love All
    May 21, 2015

    I can remember that day. That was a day of days in Dominica. At burial men went into the wide trench and the coffins were handed over to them where they place them in order as the disease names were called. That was a dreadful day. : :cry: :cry: :cry:

    • Question
      May 21, 2015

      huh? they had diseases?

      • Brenda
        May 21, 2015

        You now what he/she meant. Stop it.

      • KoKo Naughts
        May 21, 2015

        Wehh boy Question. You make people vex there wii. Steups smh

      • Citizen
        May 21, 2015

        As someone who likes correcting grammar and spelling, I know when to step back. Jeez have a little sympathy, or decorum perhaps. This isn’t funny. Smh

    • Question
      May 21, 2015

      smh. i didnt mean anything bad.. she/he spelt deceased, disease, is only after i realized is deceased she meant

      • Citizen
        May 21, 2015

        Ever considered stopping to think before commenting?

      • The Facts
        May 22, 2015

        Due to the nature of the article, you should have known what it meant and that it was an unintended error. I do not hold you to it. Anyway, for the love of God, you are forgiven. :lol:

  23. uk dominican
    May 21, 2015

    May their souls continue to rest in peace. could you imagine the fear on their faces when they were plummeting down that precipice. Oh God I can feel the fear poor souls and it appears that they were related what a tragedy for these family members. Sad, sad, Sad.

  24. Kumbaya
    May 21, 2015

    Kudos to DNO for publishing this sad piece, I was born in the 90s and I had not heard about this tragedy until today, so thank you DNO. Condolences to their families

    • The Facts
      May 22, 2015

      Have you been residing in D/ca? I guess it is an accident that some people would like to forget due to the sad memories. Of course, a lot of time past and some people may not have remembered it as they go about their business. Other news and life’s events may have clouded their minds. We all go through that. We may forget unless something comes up to remind us, as DNO’s article. Yes! Thank you to DNO!

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