A plane missing since the Second World War has been found in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country by a group of dedicated volunteers with a fish finder.
The members of the Lost Airmen in Muskoka Project (LAMP) have been trying to locate and identify missing wartime planes in the area for a number of years. A few years ago they thought they had enough information from historical accounts to find the Northrop A-17 Nomad that crashed on Dec. 13, 1940.
That plane, flown by Flight Lieutenant Peter Campbell, 24, of the Royal Air Force and Leading Aircraftman Theodore Bates, 27, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, had been one of nearly 50 planes out searching for another aircraft that disappeared in a snowstorm the day before. The missing plane had flown on a training mission out of Borden, near Barrie, Ont., and the search stretched from Georgian Bay to Sudbury. Campbell and Bates were to go on vacation when they decided to join in the search. Bates had just received his air force wings the day before.
Flight 3521 had been flying over Lake Muskoka, 180 kilometres north of Toronto, when it collided with another plane. “The plane was making an eastward turn toward the [Muskoka] airport, probably for refuelling,” said LAMP Chairman Al Bacon, a life member of Central Muskoka Branch in Bracebridge. Eye witnesses saw both planes fall from the sky. The one plane was found a few weeks later with the body of one pilot. The body of a second man in the plane was found later in June 1941. But there was no trace of Flight 3521.
But there was enough in the records to give the group an idea of where the plane had landed. Using their own boats and a Humminbird 997c fish finder, Bacon, along with Matt Fairbross and Don Rudd, patrolled Lake Muskoka until they thought they zeroed in on the area where they believed the plane to be.
“It was like mowing a lawn. We went east and west and then north and south until we thought we had something. To be sure though, we would need $50,000 worth of equipment. We haven’t got $50,” said Bacon.
That was in 2007 when the group took their findings to the Ontario Provincial Police.
“They came to us with a substantial amount of evidence,” said Inspector Ed Medved of the Gravenhurst OPP. Medved referred the case to the OPP commissioner of the day, current Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino, who took a personal interest in the case.
“It became a missing persons case for us,” said Medved. Using the more sophisticated equipment of the police force, several searches of the lake were conducted using side-scan sonar equipment. When finally enough information had been gathered, the Underwater Search and Recovery team based in Gravenhurst dove to the crash site and videotaped the wreckage which still had one body inside.
“The plane was still intact, but the engine was about 20 feet away. The bottom was torn out of the plane,” said Bacon.
“They found a glove belonging to Bates with a gold ring in it,” said Bacon. The initials T.S.B. for Theodore Scribner Bates confirmed the identity of the body inside the plane. The also found the .38-calibre revolver issued to Campbell in the cockpit and a cigarette case with Campbell’s name and birthday engraved on it.
“Our missing persons case became a death investigation and that was taken over by the coroner’s office,” explained Medved.
The discovery was made in July 2010 but the OPP did not release the information to the public until Bates’ family in Guelph, Ont., and Campbell’s family in Britain could be notified. The location is still a guarded secret to discourage souvenir hunters or curious divers who would disturb the site.
Whether or not the wreckage will be recovered and the airman inside given a proper burial is a matter for the Department of National Defence to decide.