RCMP diving to float plane that crashed in lake nearly 60 years ago
An RCMP dive on a remote northern Saskatchewan lake this week will attempt to recover a pilot and a conservation officer whose remains could still be inside the wreckage of a float plane that vanished almost 60 years ago.
The location of the wreckage in Peter Pond Lake had been a mystery until last month when a private search effort, launched by the pilot’s daughter and sonin-law, used sonar to find the single-engine Cessna 180 about 16 metres under water.
RCMP initially said they would not be diving to the wreckage, but now say a team will attempt to get inside the fuselage and gather whatever may be left of pilot Ray Gran and Saskatchewan conservation officer Harold Thompson.
“I don’t want people’s expectations to be too high. We’re going there to see what we can get, what we can retrieve,” Cpl. Rob King said in an interview.
“It’s probably the most dangerous job in the RCMP.”
The plane, owned by Saskatchewan Government Airways, took off from Buffalo Narrows, Sask., on Aug. 20, 1959, on a short flight to investigate poaching and to deliver mail to La Loche, Sask.
Gran was an experienced pilot in the Second World War and had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He typically flew with his wife, Marcella, but she wasn’t on the doomed flight. She was six months pregnant with their first child and the couple decided it would be best for her to stay home.
Thompson was also married and was the father of a baby boy.
Gran waited some time for fog to clear before taking off, but it’s believed it may have thickened and he tried unsuccessfully to land.
News stories from the time by The Canadian Press say the initial Royal Canadian Air Force search for the missing aircraft lasted about 10 days.
The Air Force concluded the plane had crashed into Peter Pond Lake and everybody on board had died.
That winter, a snowmobile towing a metal detector traversed the lake ice looking for signs of the missing plane, but the wreckage was never located.
Last year, Don Kapusta, who had married Gran’s daughter Linda, decided they should try to find the plane and called Garry Kozak, a sonar expert specializing in shipwreck and aircraft searches. Kapusta said
one of the reasons they decided to search was that Gran’s widow was 87 years old.
“This was something she had thought about over the decades and never really had an answer to, so we thought this was as good a time as any to do it,” explained Kapusta, who lives in Toronto.
He bought a seven-metrelong boat and towed it to Buffalo Narrows. Kozak, who is based in New Hampshire, flew with his sonar gear to Saskatoon and drove north.
Kozak had told Kapusta to gather as much information about the crash as possible to narrow down the area of the 552-square-kilometre lake that would need to be searched. Based on that information, Kozak plotted an area of about 50 square kilometres and divided it into four quadrants to be searched over four days.
They found it on Day 1 after accidentally crossing into another quadrant.
Garry Kozak points to a sonar image as the first picture of a Cessna 180 which disappeared on August 20, 1959, comes into view on Peter Pond Lake.