A special U.S. military team has almost finished its WWII seaplane mission off Quebec’s north shore to recover the bodies of five crew members who drowned 70 years ago.
The wind was fierce and the waves were surging on that day 70 years ago in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, a small fishing village.
In 1942, the village became the site of an emergency airstrip on the U.S. military’s so-called “Crimson Route,” a strategic air corridor to Europe through Maine and Newfoundland.
Late in the afternoon on Nov. 2, 1942, most of the village stopped to watch a U.S. Army seaplane taxi from the harbour.
But the plane — a PBY Catalina — struggled to clear the water. Vibert recalls the towering waves of the Gulf lashing at the cockpit during its second take-off attempt.
“I counted five waves, but there may have been more,” recalls Josephine Vibert, who was getting married that very day and still lives in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan. “After the last one, water started entering their plane.”
The town’s fishermen braved the frothing waters to find four crew members clinging to the fuselage.
Just moments after the survivors were hauled aboard the local fishing boats, the plane, along with the five remaining crew members, slipped beneath waves, never to be seen again.
That is until 2009, when underground divers from Parks Canada found the barnacled, upside-down fuselage of the Catalina some 40 metres below the surface.
“We worked from shore until we hit the plane,” said Marc-Andre Bernier, the chief underwater archeologist for Parks Canada.
“When we actually saw that the fuselage was in one piece, we immediately stopped operations and contacted the American authorities.”
With the prospect of the remains of American soldiers inside, Canadian officials contacted a joint civilian-military unit in the U.S. that specializes in the identification of citizens lost in war.