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Climbers discover long-lost crash site
By ROD MICKLEBURGH
Toronto Globe and Mail

 

August 01, 2006
Tuesday


VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The gods of fate decided that, finally, it was time.

More than 38 years after a twin-engine Cessna carrying a pilot and two passengers was swallowed up by the wilderness, an extraordinary set of circumstances has led to its discovery late last week in a high, remote valley of the Rocky Mountains.

What did it take? It took a pair of intrepid mountain climbers, one pushing 70, the other pushing 60, with a plastic prosthesis for a lower left leg, who decided to scale a peak so far off the beaten track no one had scaled it before.

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Then, it took a flying boulder that crashed into John Gow's prosthesis.

After a quick repair job with - natch - duct tape, Gow and his partner, 69-year-old Bernie Schiesser, carried on to the top.

And last but not least, because of that less-than-perfect prosthesis, it took Gow's decision to rest on the way down, a decision that fatefully prompted Schiesser to wander off on his own for a bit.

"Suddenly I saw something red about 500 feet ahead of me," Schiesser recalled this week.

"I thought, 'Shoot, that looks like a crash site.' I hiked over and it certainly was a crash site."

What the veteran climber, guide, resort owner and pilot found was all that remained of a plane that disappeared in snowy skies near Golden, B.C., on Jan. 8, 1968, during a flight to Edmonton.

The only sign Schiesser saw that anyone had been on board was a woman's shoe, a man's shoe and a thin scrap of clothing.

Except for a section of its red tail, the plane was mostly smashed to smithereens, small bits of wreckage strewn over a wide moraine at the edge of a hanging valley.

The area is so remote, Gow, 59, and Schiesser had to be flown in and out by helicopter for their assault on the north peak of Robinson mountain.

"I would never have gone down there where the plane was without all those small things happening to us," marveled Schiesser. "It was almost like fate intervened. It just happened."

Barry Kennedy of the Golden Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who flew to the site to investigate the find, also marveled at how the discovery was made so many years later.

Noting the pivotal role played by the errant boulder, Kennedy said, "It was like somebody pushed it off, and said: 'You're close!' "

The RCMP officer confirmed that three people had been on board when the plane went missing. He said their names would not be released until next of kin of all three have been notified.

Contacting them out of the blue with the news has been emotional, he said.

"We have talked to two of the families so far. When I called the mother of the pilot, she was crying right away," Kennedy said.

"But she assured me this was nothing bad. She was happy to learn that her son was out there, to learn where he was. She told me: 'This is not sad for us. This is good news.' "

The unexpected discovery of the plane also brought to an end the poignant quest of Bob Wilson.

Wilson was one of the pilot's best buddies back in the 1960s. They went to flying school together, and he never stopped wondering what happened to his friend's final flight.

As he began having more free time, Wilson started searching.

Every two years, he would hike into the mountains near Golden, make camp and look around.

"I talked to witnesses who remembered seeing his plane going overhead in the area," Wilson said. "It was kind of an unsolved mystery. It had bothered me for years. I made many, many camping trips up there."

Ironically, Wilson did find something on one of his wilderness forays, coming upon the tail of an aircraft very similar to his friend's plane wedged high up in a tree.

For a time, he thought it was the missing Cessna, but records showed otherwise. Now, he knows for sure.

"When the police called this morning, it was a tremendous relief. It's such a beautiful area up there. I felt good."

 

 

Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com


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