Amherst company trying to solve 66-year-old mystery

Darrell Cole
Published on September 24, 2009

AMHERST - An Amherst company hopes to solve a 66-year-old mystery surrounding a sunken Lockheed Hudson bomber in an Annapolis Valley lake.

Mike Roberts of Divetech Ltd. leaves today for Gaspereau Lake near Greenwood where he hopes to find the RCAF bomber that slipped beneath the ice of the frozen lake in March 1943.

"It's pretty neat for a little company from Amherst like ours to get the contract for the search," Roberts said. "I'm not sure we'll be able to find it in two days, but we're going to do everything we can to make it happen. If we don't find it I want to go back at it next summer for a week."

The bomber was on its way back to Greenwood from a U-boat hunting mission off Shelburne when it ran into engine problems and landed safely on the lake. Technicians fixed the plane, but before it could take off heat generated from the engine and vibration caused the ice to crack sending it to the bottom.

While the bomber's presence in the lake is well known, it's exact location remains a mystery - although there have been a number of unconfirmed sightings of the wreckage from the air.

The wreck was forgotten for more than a half century until a search and rescue crew out of Greenwood reported seeing what looked like a twin-engined plane in the lake. Tragically, the crewman were killed in a Labrador helicopter crash in Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula before revealing its exact location.

The Greenwood Military Aviation Museum is conducting the search in conjunction with Arcadia Productions and the CBC. The search will be part of a Land and Sea broadcast on the CBC in October.

"There have been a couple of smaller searches, but they have been unsuccessful," Roberts said. "They've searched quite a bit of it already and have it narrowed down to a section of the lake. They know the plane's flight path and are pretty sure they know where it could be. It's up to us to find it."

This is the first time an ROV, or remote operated vehicle, is being used in the search.

He believes the plane is sitting fully intact in about 15 metres of water, but the lake is very murky and finding the plane in the six-mile long body of water could be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Complicating matters is the fact there are a number of other planes in the lake.

"They found a Cessna there last year and there's a Mosquito in there as well that has been recorded," Roberts said. "This thing is unmistakable though. It has a 60-foot wingspan and is intact. She didn't beak up and is sitting upright."

The aviation museum has the salvage rights to the plane, but has been searching for three years without any luck. It's believed the plane, if restored to flying condition, could be as worth as much as $5 million. The salvage operation is expected to cost about $500,000.

Divetech, created last November, has already completed a number of diving projects for various municipalities including Amherst, where it inspected the town's water tank on Willow Street.

Roberts has worked on other salvage missions in the past and is looking forward to the challenge of finding the missing bomber. The company will deploy side-imaging sonar to looking for any shadows that look like the outline of the plane. Once it gets a hit, Roberts will deploy an ROV to study the object up close.

"If the plane is there, we'll find it. Once we find the target we'll put this ROV in the water to get some video footage," Roberts said. "The ultimate aim is to find it and restore it."