Twenty-five years ago, on Dec. 12, 1985, a chartered Arrow Air DC-8 passenger jet crashed shortly after takeoff after a refueling stop at Gander, Newfoundland. All 248 members of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division who were heading back to their base at Fort Campbell, Ky., lost their lives in the fiery crash, along with eight crew members.

These U.S. soldiers had been deployed on a peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsula. Many had just phoned loved ones from pay phones in the terminal to say that they were finally on the last leg of their trip home.

President Ronald Reagan would later note that the Gander crash was the largest single-day loss of life for the U.S. armed forces since the invasion of Normandy.

He added that it served as “another reminder of the high price we were having to pay for the continuing strife in the Middle East and our efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

The event was described in a U.S. Department of the Army historical summary as having “wrenched the soul and torn at the heart of the U.S. Army” more than any other in its peacetime history.

More U.S. soldiers died in Gander than in the bomb blast in Beirut in 1983. Yet, little was said about the crash in the years that followed.

In 1990, for example, the late Caspar Weinberger wrote an account about his years as U.S. defense secretary from 1981 to 1987 under President Reagan. Weinberger’s book, “Fighting For Peace,” made no mention whatsoever of the enormous loss of life at Gander in December 1985.

Weinberger was not alone. In fact, if any published accounts or memoirs by former members of the Reagan administration discuss the Arrow Air disaster in any detail, the authors are unaware of them.

A Canadian Aviation Safety Board panel responsible for investigating the crash attributed the cause to ice buildup on the wings. This finding was challenged due to eyewitness accounts of a fire aboard the plane prior to the crash, and other evidence gathered at the crash site.

Les Filotas was one of the dissenting members of that panel who could not accept the ice theory. Filotas, a retired professor and aeronautical engineer, later wrote a book, “Improbable Cause,” which said that the official investigation had “drowned in a sea of bureaucratic self-interest, shameless incompetence and dogged, inexorable deceit.”

Subsequent reviews in both Canada and the United States discredited the ice theory. But no convincing alternative cause has emerged.

Despite multiple threats and successful attacks on commercial aviation in the 1980s, including bombs smuggled aboard aircraft, no evidence has surfaced to support one proposed theory in particular: that this Arrow Air plane might have been brought down by a deliberate terrorist attack.

While Dr. Aymam al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian who was a leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad prior to becoming the second in command of al-Qaida, was not in Egypt in late 1985 following his release from prison, there is ample evidence that al-Zawahiri in particular was intent upon attacking aircraft in Egypt and elsewhere, and that he plotted to undertake such attacks.

Members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad had placed Cairo International Airport under surveillance by the mid-1980s, and they may have known about the U.S. soldiers arriving there from the Sinai prior to their long flight back to the United States. They may have also discovered that the Arrow Air plane was parked for hours in Cairo with a lone guard on duty.

The Ronald Reagan Library recently responded to a request that Filotas made under the Freedom of Information Act in 2007. The library’s staff located 650 pages pertaining to the Gander crash among President Reagan’s “non-National Security Council” documents, although 44 of these were being withheld under various exemptions. This material has yet to be reviewed.

Today, a monument and a plaque with the names of those killed in Gander mark the crash site. The statue there of a lone American soldier holding the hands of two small children — each child holds an olive branch high — is a fitting memorial, and many people visit to pay their respects.

What unfolded in Gander that fateful day will forever be remembered as a tragic accident. On the 25th anniversary, we should remember those who did not make it home. The peacekeepers who perished in Gander gave their lives in support of a noble cause, and we will never forget them.