Searching the Callaghan

1956 was the year that a T33 military jet mysteriously disappeared over the Callaghan Valley area. The two pilots inside were never found and 60 years later only a few pieces have been found that would give us any clue as to what happened to the two men inside the plane when it went down.

The two men were First Officers James Miller and Gerald Stubbs of the 409 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Their flight was only scheduled to take an hour and a half and be within a hundred mile radius of the Comox base on Vancouver Island. Yet just seventeen minutes into their flight they were documented by radar as entering bad weather and were never seen again.

That is until eighteen years later in November of 1974 when the canopy of their plane was found in the Callaghan Valley, nowhere near where the search teams had been looking for the men. Forty-two years after the plane disappeared its fuselage was found not far from the Callaghan Country lodge, and then twelve years later in October 2010, remnants of one of the pilot’s helmets was found and identified by its colours.

Google Earth image of the location of the T33 crash debris. GPS data courtesy Whistler Search & Rescue.

Google Earth image of the location of the T33 crash debris. GPS data courtesy Whistler Search & Rescue.

The Whistler Museum now preserves those fragments of helmet in our archive room. It is likely they will have to be sent off to be cleaned at the Royal BC Museum though as our small museum does not have the resources to properly clean them. Archival-level preservation becomes especially challenging when you have multiple types of materials in a single artifact, like, for example, the plastic, foam, metal, and leather in a pilot’s helmet. Fifty-four years in the elements has not been kind to the pieces of the flight helmet and it will take a lot of care for them to be able to be displayed in the future.

helmet.jpg

The remnants of the flight helmet.

The Whistler Museum also has what we can only assume is a piece from the windshield of the plane as well; a large jagged piece of curved plexiglass as well as a chunk of metal tubing. These pieces along with the helmet fragments were donated to the Museum from the RCMP after they were found in 2010.

car

Callaghan Valley in the 1960s.

A television show called “Callout: Search and Rescue” even did an episode on this mysterious crash for the first episode of their third season. The episode covers the Search and Rescue team scouring the Callaghan Valley looking for any missed clues as to what may have happened to the pilots.

In October the Search and Rescue team does an annual search of the Valley and they continuously look for things like ejection seats, helmets or boots. Things that will withstand the elements and will also stand out in the forest. As of the last search in October 2015 nothing else has been found but the search still continues.

For more information check out this feature article written by Pique Newsmagazine in 2015.

By Michaela Sawyer

 

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