A plane with five people on board mysteriously disappeared in 1971. Experts say they found the wreckage in Lake Champlain.

World War II shipwreck found in Lake Superior

Fifty-three years after a private plane with five men on board disappeared on a snowy night in Vermont, experts believe they have found the wreckage of the long-lost plane in Lake Champlain.

The business plane disappeared shortly after departing Burlington Airport for Providence, Rhode Island, on January 27, 1971. On board were two crew members and three employees of the development company Cousin’s Properties of Atlanta, Georgia, who were working on a development project. in Burlington.

Initial searches for the 10-seat Jet Commander found no wreckage and the lake, which is 400 feet deep at its deepest point, froze four days after the plane was lost. At least seventeen other searches took place until last month, underwater searcher Garry Kozak and a team using a remote-controlled vehicle found the wreckage of a jetliner with the same modified paint scheme in the lake, near where the radio control tower last saw the plane had followed. disappeared. Sonar images have been captured of the wreckage found 200 feet off Juniper Island. The island is located just over three miles southwest of Burlington.

In this May 2024 image provided by Garry Kozak, remains of what experts believe to be a 10-seat Jet Commander aircraft rest on the floor of Lake Champlain near Juniper Island, Vermont.

Gary Kozak/AP

“With all that evidence, we are 99% absolutely certain,” Kozak said Monday.

The discovery of the wreckage in Lake Champlain, sandwiched between New York and Vermont, gives the victims’ families “some closure and answers a lot of the questions they had,” he said.

Kozak told CBS affiliate WCAX-TV that the search may have taken so long because planes break up into many pieces that are not easily identified.

“A jet plane literally looks like a pile of rocks. So for most people looking at sonar data, they might overlook it because they’ll say, ‘Oh, that looks like geology,” Kozak told the station.

According to his website, Kozak’s career in undersea search and research began in 1972 and his company specializes in locating shipwrecks and aircraft. In 2012, Kozak was part of a team that created a German submarine from World War II in the waters off Nantucket.

Although family members are grateful and relieved that the plane has been found, the discovery also raises more questions and old wounds.

“To have found this now … it’s a peaceful feeling, but at the same time it’s a very sad feeling,” Barbara Nikita, niece of pilot George Nikita, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. “We know what happened. We’ve seen a few photos. We’re struggling with that now, I think.”

Frank Wilder’s father, also Frank Wilder, was a passenger on the plane.

“Not knowing for 53 years whether the plane was in the lake or maybe on a mountainside somewhere around there was disturbing,” said Wilder, who lives outside Philadelphia. “And again, I’m relieved to know where the plane is now, but unfortunately it raises other questions and we have to work on that now.”

When the ice melted in the spring of 1971, debris from the plane was found at Shelburne Point, according to Kozak. An underwater search in May 1971 failed to find the wreckage. According to Kozak, at least seventeen other searches took place, including in 2014. At the time, authorities were spurred by curiosity about the Disappearance of Malaysia Airlines plane that year hoping that new technology would find the wreckage, but it didn’t.

Barbara Nikita, who lives in Southern California, and her cousin Kristina Nikita Coffey, who lives in Tennessee, led the recent search efforts and contacted family members of other victims.

What was fascinating about reconnecting with the group was: “everyone had pieces of the pie and the puzzle: when we started sharing information and sharing documents, we gained a much greater understanding and perspective of the information, how we were all affected by it.” ” said Charles Williams, whose father, Robert Ransom Williams III, an employee of Cousin’s Properties, was on the plane.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating whether the plane was involved, Williams said. The NTSB does not conduct salvage operations, which would be expensive, Williams said.

“Whether there are any tangible remains, and I hate to say it that way, and worth disturbing, that’s a decision we’ll have to figure out later, and part of what we’re unpacking now” , he said. “It’s hard when you start thinking about that.”

The victims’ relatives plan to hold a memorial service now that they know where the plane is.

The announcement of the discovery comes about 10 months after the wreck of a Tuskegee pilot plane that crashed during a World War II training mission was recovered in Lake Huron.

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