Military divers will be scouring Lake Muskoka this weekend to survey the wreckage of a World War II-era aircraft that crashed there over 70 years ago.
Military arriving to search historic Lake Muskoka plane wreck.
Lost plane. A group of local men discovered the Northop Nomad #3521 airplane wreck that claimed the life of Ted Bates (above) and Peter Campbell on Dec. 13, 1940.
The survey dive will be conducted from Friday, October 12 to Monday, October 15 by divers from the military’s fleet diving unit. The wreckage is of one of two planes involved in a mid-air crash in December 1940 which claimed four lives. The aircraft were out looking for another aircraft that went missing in a blizzard the day before.
Though one of the aircraft involved in the crash and the bodies of two pilots were recovered the following year, search efforts continued for the second plane, an RCAF Northop Nomad #3521, and its occupants. However, that second aircraft has remained underwater since, and remained largely forgotten until it was found a few years ago by a group of local men who formed the Lost Airmen in Muskoka Project (LAMP) to pick up the search.
The missing aircraft is one of only three known models of its type that are still known to be in existence.
“The primary focus of this dive will be to survey the site to recover any potential human remains and artifacts, as well as identify and remove potential physical and/or environmental hazards,” said Melanie Villeneuve, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defense (DND).
With the help of OPP divers, some artifacts were discovered and returned to the surface during a previous dive. Project LAMP members have contended that the acidity in the lake has dissolved any human remains over the years, and note that no human remains were found during the previous dive. But if any human remains are found during the military’s dive this weekend, Project LAMP members fear that the DND will treat the wreckage as a war grave and refuse to raise it from the water.
Should any additional artifacts are found, Project LAMP coordinator Carl Mills said family members of the two pilots want them returned to the surface, and the wreckage raised and restored as a memorial.
“They did say that if there was something found, they would like to have it, so that they can bury it somewhere,” said Mills.
The sentiment was echoed by Muskoka Lakes Coun. Ron Brent, who has been working with Project LAMP members to have the aircraft raised and relocated at the RCAF museum in Trenton.
“I think it’s pretty important, it’s part of our history,” he said. “It’s unfinished business.”
Brent said that based on video and sonar images he’s seen in the previous dive, there is no evidence of any human remains left in the wreck. He said he doesn’t understand why the military feels the need to go in for a second look.
Though Brent said communications between Project LAMP and the military have been minimal, the group did finally get a phone call from the military a few weeks ago. Brent said a meeting is being planned between the DND and the members of Project LAMP, but he said he had not yet received word on when that meeting will take place.
“That’s after two years of badgering them and pressuring them, and going through Tony Clement and John Klinck and Norm Miller to try and get someone to say ‘hello’,” he said.
Villeneuve said what eventually happens to the aircraft will be determined by the results of the survey dive.
“For those of whom we can recover and identify, the Department of National Defense and Canadian Forces will ensure that they are given the dignity and respect they deserve,” she said.
Villeneuve said a public notice would be issued this week in advance of the dive, but it was not received by this newspaper at press time.