The mystery of the airplane wing recently uncovered in a Squamish ditch seems to have been solved.
Aviation experts tell The Chief that the metal part found last week deep in a gully on Government Road is likely from a T-33 — a two-person, single-engine jet — that crashed on March 22, 1956.
The crew of T-33, 21454, departed from Royal Canadian Air Force Station in Comox mid-morning that day on what was supposed to be a short, instrument flying practice flight, according to Col. Jon Ambler of the Comox Air Force Museum.
Flying officers Gerald Stubbs and James Miller had planned to fly within a 100 nautical mile radius of Comox, Ambler said in an email to The Chief.
The aircraft failed to return. The men were never found.
After looking at pictures of the wing sent to the museum by The Chief, Ambler said he and others at the museum believe what was found in Squamish looks like a piece of the lost plane.
“Canada’s sons and daughters serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force to defend Canada and our way of life through the skillful application of airpower. This is true today, just as it was true in 1956, in the height of the Cold War, when those two young men were killed,” Ambler said. “They made the supreme sacrifice while conducting essential training to ensure their readiness to defend us. Lest We Forget.”
The discovery of the wing in Squamish came about when Carl Halvorson, a member of the Squamish Environment Society, was picking up plastic debris and saw a shiny piece of metal sticking out of the ditch. He suspected right away it was a piece of a plane, he said.
“It was pretty obvious to me,” he said. “It just surprised me it was still there.”
District of Squamish crews had recently cut back the brush in the area, which exposed the piece somewhat.
When Halvorson alerted The Chief of his find, the paper contacted local history-buff John Buchanan who, along with Halvorson, dug the part up.
Only about 20 per cent of the wing was above ground. The rest was deep in the mud of the gully. The men worked to get it out on Thursday and then returned to finish the next day.
Buchanan took it home to his yard and painstakingly cleaned off the mud, grass, and debris while documenting in photos each piece. He found a weathered piece of a glass 7-Up bottle, which was another hint that the wing had been underground for a long time, Buchanan said.
As the dirt washed away, revealing the chipped green paint and aluminum underneath, Buchanan suspected the item might be part of a 1950s plane, but he didn’t want to jump to any conclusions.
When he uncovered a metal label inside the wing reading, “Rocket and Guns: Ground Test Switch,” that was the tell-tale movement when Buchanan realized it was definitely a 1950s T-33. Though he isn’t entirely convinced the wing couldn’t be from of the same type of plane that crashed in 1957 over the Cheekye Fan.
The wing is seven feet long, four feet wide and 12 inches thick.
Buchanan said he has always been intrigued by the history of crashes in our area and has kept newspaper clippings over the years, but hadn’t thought to actively look for parts of this wreckage.
This isn’t the first discovery of parts from the ill-fated 1956 flight. On March 3, 1995, a Canadian Forces diver found wreckage in Callaghan Lake. Before that, on Sept. 16, 1974, a T-33 canopy — the Plexiglass cover of the cockpit — was located at the lake.
Whistler Search and Rescue members have searched the Callaghan yearly for signs of the wreckage.
For the man who “re-discovered” the wing on Government Road, another pressing question is how the wing got in the ditch. After talking with his father, who remembers the crash and the search efforts, Halvorson thinks he has the answer to that mystery as well.
“The guy who was one of the rescuers lived right across the street,” Halverson said. “It seems like that fellow just dragged this thing home, and it wound up in the ditch somehow.”
Anyone with further insight into how the plane wing ended up in the ditch on Government Road at Harris Road can contact The Chief at firstname.lastname@example.org.
**Please note, this story has been updated to include that Buchanan isn’t fully convinced this wing isn’t from a January 1957 crash over the Cheekye Fan. The Chief will continue to follow this story as it develops.