A U.S.-based sonar expert has helped solve a decades-old mystery in northern Saskatchewan.
Garry Kozak was approached this winter by the family of Raymond Gran, a bush pilot who died at 36 when his Cessna 180 float plane crashed into Peter Pond Lake, located west of Buffalo Narrows. Conservation officer Harold Thompson, 27, was also killed in the crash.
“This to me was a humanitarian mission to locate the plane so hopefully the family can recover the remains for proper burial at some point,” Kozak said.
It took months for Gran’s daughter and son-in-law to gather up all the old accident reports, newspaper clippings and witness accounts they could find, in order to help Kozak narrow down a workable search area.
“If you have unlimited resources and unlimited time, there is virtually nothing that can’t be found. But there is always a limit,” he said.
With 40 years of experience on large-scale searches including the hunt for the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 in the South China Sea and the 1998 search for Swiss Air Flight 111 off the coast of Nova Scotia, Kozak said he was confident he’d be able to find the plane.
But first, he’d need to rent a suitable boat, something that turned out to be in short supply in the area around Buffalo Narrows. Kozak said Gran’s son-in-law ultimately had to come through with a solution.
“(He) decided to buy a boat in Toronto and he trailered it all the way to Buffalo Narrows.”
The search began on July 30.
Kozak explained the plan was to split the search area into four quadrants, with each expected to take a day or two to cover while dragging his sonar rig behind the boat on a cable.
However, a mapping mistake ended up speeding up the process.
“And so we started in (quadrant) one, but I overlooked the survey lines and we actually transected right through quadrant two as well and we continued that for the entire day.”
They ended up finding the plane towards the end of the first day of searching. Kozak said this was maybe the third time he’d ever had that happen in his decades-long career.
What’s more, it turned out the stroke of luck actually saved the entire project.
“We were hoping to go back a second day and do a little more refined sonar work on it. But when we got to the dock that evening and filled the boat, we could not get the boat in gear. It broke,” he said.
Despite the quick success of the search, Kozak said he was left feeling a little empty after Gran’s son-in-law got a call just a few hours after the search, informing him that Marcella Gran, Raymond’s widow, had died suddenly before she could be told her long-lost husband’s resting place had been found.
“It was just peculiar that the mother passed away within six hours of finding the plane,” Kozak said.
RCMP and the Transportation Safety Board have both declined to pull the plane out of the water, citing safety concerns.