Volume 12 Number 1
March 31, 1996
The Ghost Re-Appears

PMG logoIt was September 21, 1994 and we had hit a dead end. Ten years of searching for l’Oiseau Blanc had led us from the hills of coastal Maine to the high muskeg of Newfoundland. Now we stood tired, cold and empty-handed on a remote and desolate lakeshore, out of time, out of money, and out of ideas. Our only consolation was the knowledge that we had stood like this in other places at other times (too many places, too many times) and always, eventually, answers had emerged. Sometimes, it seems, a project needs to just sit and simmer for awhile. Keep the heat on and, sooner or later, something new will bubble to the top. Early this year, sixteen months after that bleak day on the muskeg, we heard a tiny but distinct “pop.”

The puzzle which had stumped us was truly perplexing. On May 9, 1927, twelve days before Lindbergh landed in Paris, two French aviators disappeared in an attempt to make the same trip, but in the opposite direction. Although their heralded arrival in New York didn’t happen, an airplane fitting the description of their large white biplane, l’Oiseau Blanc (the White Bird), was seen over Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula by as many as seventeen separate witnesses. The reported track of the aircraft passed northeast to southwest toward the Cape Shore, a coastal peninsula the interior of which is a wilderness plateau dotted with shallow lakes. A strong local tradition holds that one of those lakes holds the wreck of an airplane. That story is supported by archival documents confirming that, in 1948, airplane wreckage on an island in a lake was reported to the Newfoundland authorities. The debris was judged to be 15 to 20 years old and the Civil Aviation Division, after checking its records, dismissed it as probably belonging to one of “a number of aircraft (which) left Europe about twenty years ago of which no trace has since been found.” The exact location-a small rocky island in a lake known locally as the Gull Pond-was pinpointed for TIGHAR by Cape Shore residents who say they saw wreckage there in the early ’40s. An initial TIGHAR search of the island in 1992 recovered a single piece of debris which might be from an aircraft but is too badly deteriorated to be diagnostic. This did, however, seem to confirm the Gull Pond as the point of origin for the plane-in-the-pond stories. If an airplane crashed here the wreckage on the island should logically be part of a larger debris field which would include the all-important engine(s). To test that hypothesis a program of methodical visual and remote-sensing searches of the pond bottom was begun. Two years, six expeditions, and many thousands of dollars later we had covered enough of the submerged real estate surrounding the island to convince ourselves that there just ain’t nothin’ there. Something was fundamentally wrong with our hypothesis – but what?

The “pop” of new information which might re-open the investigation came in the form of a casual comment by a Newfoundland resident who remembered that early versions of the plane-in-the-pond story mentioned a different pond. The idea that we might be looking in the wrong body of water was one we had considered and rejected many times. The problem, of course, was the credible testimony of eyewitnesses who saw wreckage at the Gull Pond and our own recovery of an artifact there. Mysterious airplane wreckage at two ponds in the same region just didn’t make any sense-or did it? Part of the plane-in-the-pond legend holds that an early discoverer of the wreck brought metal parts home to use as sled runners. What if the material seen and found at the Gull Pond was actually a stockpile of salvaged parts brought part way home from a site farther away? That would explain the absence of a debris field. Instead of discovering the crash site, perhaps we only cleaned up the last remaining piece of a salvor’s stash. This may turn out to be yet another dead end or it could be the answer to one of aviation history’s greatest riddles. Until we know which we’re not much inclined to mention the name of the other pond.

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