Possible human remains found at World War II plane wreck
Human remains may have been found during a survey dive at a World War II-era plane wreck in Lake Muskoka last week.
Tom Bates, whose brother Ted died over 70 years ago in a two-plane accident over the lake that killed four people, said the Department of National Defence informed him of the news shortly after the survey dive wrapped up mid-week last week.
Bates’ brother ended up in the depths of Lake Muskoka in December 1940 with another crew member during a rescue mission. Two crew members and the wreckage of one of the planes was recovered before the war was over, but an RCAF Northrop Nomad 3521 and the bodies of Ted Bates and another crewman have sat underwater since.
“The coordinator of the dive, he sent an email to my son and said they think they have found some more remains in the aircraft,” said Bates. “But as far as I know, they’re going to take a DNA sample from me and try to compare it.”
Bates said he hasn’t been told any details about the material found, or which of the two pilots the discovery could potentially belong to.
“Evidently they’ve reported they’ve found something, but they’ll let me know more about it later on when they start examining things a little closer,” he said.
Though the lost airmen and the aircraft remained forgotten for decades, interest in their recovery was revived when a group of local men formed LAMP (Lost Airmen in Muskoka Project). The group located the wreckage and worked with OPP divers a few years ago to recover some artifacts, including a glove and a ring. Official reports at the time stated that no recoverable human remains were found, and Project LAMP members contended that the acidity in the lake had dissolved the bodies long ago.
“That’s what we thought too, but evidently they’ve reported they’ve found something,” said Bates.
Project LAMP member Carl Mills said he’s heard secondhand rumours that a small smear of calcified substance — about only one centimetre in size — and what he describes as fatty material were found inside the cockpit when the military conducted the dive last week.
“I can only best describe it as a byproduct of human remains,” he said of the materials found.
He has doubts, however, whether what was found could be considered human remains, saying that the properties of the material could have changed over time after being underwater for so long.
“Technically it’s human remains, you can’t say it isn’t. But it’s not a piece of flesh or a piece of skin, it’s something that has changed,” he said. “It’s not human tissue, it’s a byproduct.”
Department of National Defence spokesperson Melanie Villeneuve confirmed that something was recovered from the wreckage, but was otherwise tight-lipped on the situation.
“As we are in the process of analyzing the items recovered from the wreckage, it would be premature to comment at this time,” she said. “Please be rest assured that the nature of the dive’s findings will be officially communicated by the department once the investigation has concluded.”
While the dive was originally supposed to take place over the weekend of Oct. 12, bad weather delayed crews until mid-week last week.
Prior to the military’s dive, Project LAMP members expressed concerns that the military would turn the wreckage into a war grave and refuse to resurface the plane if any human remains were discovered. The group has been working to have the aircraft recovered and put on display as a war memorial at an RCAF museum in Trenton.
The Department of National Defence has yet to make a decision on what to do with the wreckage.
Mills said the determination of Project LAMP members to have the wreck retrieved has not changed, even with the discovery of human remains. He is, however, questioning whether the next of kin’s wishes and the wishes of local community members to have the aircraft resurfaced are being respected by the military.
“Should that little bit of human remains stay there when the next of kin wants any human remains brought to the surface so they can inter them?” he said.
The aircraft, he said, is also a part of Canadian aviation history.
“There’s the issue of the rareness of the airplane, there’s only three in the world,” he said. “Is that little puddle of whatever it is down there enough to keep the airplane in the bottom of the lake when it should be brought to the surface and put on display, on exhibit?”
Mills also asked the military to put Bates into consideration when deciding what to do with the wreckage his brother died in.
“He would really love to see where his brother spent his last seconds,” said Mills.