Crashed in 1959: RCMP to begin dive to float plane wreckage in Sask. lake

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 son-in-law, used sonar to find the single-engine Cessna 180 about 16 metres under water. Rachelle Chanalquay / Supplied

UPDATE: RCMP dive team hopes to locate long-lost plane in northern Saskatchewan

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 son-in-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.”

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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.

READ MORE: Passenger dead after plane crashes southwest of Calgary

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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-metre-long 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.

“At around 6 o’clock and night, there was a contact and we turned around and lowered the range on the sonar, which gives a much higher resolution image, and there it was, the plane,” Kozak said. “You could see the wings, the fuselage, the tail. Everything was there. It was pretty amazing that it was right at the end of the first day.”

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It was lucky they found it so quickly because later that evening their boat broke down.

Kapusta said the good news about finding the plane was tempered with sadness.

“It was pretty late that night so we thought we would let Marcella know the next morning, not knowing that 10 hours after we had found the aircraft, Marcella had passed quietly in her sleep and she never knew.”

The RCMP dive won’t be quick, King said. The divers from Saskatchewan and Manitoba will want to establish a shore position closer to the wreck, which is about two hours by boat from Buffalo Narrows. Then they’ll gather sonar information about the lake floor, looking at the contours and vegetation, before sending down an unmanned vehicle with a camera.

The divers going down to the plane is the last step.

“If at any time there are safety concerns or there are safety things to overcome, we’ll try to overcome them. But if they are too dangerous to the divers, we won’t risk the divers going into the water,” King said.

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