Museum Musings: Piecing together the story of the missing military jet

 

On March  22, 1956 a T33 military jet mysteriously disappeared over the Callaghan Valley. The two pilots were never found, and 60 years later only a few pieces have been recovered that would give us any clue as to what happened to the two men inside the plane when it went down.

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They 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 was supposed to stay within a 100-mile radius of the Comox base on Vancouver Island. Just 17 minutes into their flight they were documented by radar as entering bad weather and were never seen again.

 

That is until 18 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 12 years later in October 2010, remnants of one of the pilot’s helmets was found and identified by its colours.

 

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.

 

The Whistler Museum also has a large, jagged shard of curved plexiglass, which is believed to be a portion of the plane’s windshield, 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.

 

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 continues. Whistler Search and Rescue performs annual training exercises in the Callaghan Valley to keep the group’s land search capabilities sharp, but with the added bonus of potentially finding more artifacts from this mysterious, 60-year old crash. 

 

Correction Notice: In the June 27 Museum Musings column, we erroneously wrote that the Sea to Sky highway was paved in 1976. It was actually paved in 1966. Thanks to the inimitable Gary Watson for keeping us on our toes. 

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