By James Keller, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – On Oct. 30, 1942, an Avro Anson Second World War aircraft lifted off from Patricia Bay on Vancouver Island for a routine training mission carrying a Canadian sergeant and three British airmen.
The twin-propeller plane never returned. The aircraft remained lost and the four men were listed as missing in action for more than 70 years.
But British Columbia’s coroners service has now recovered and identified the men’s remains from wreckage that was discovered by chance in a remote area of Vancouver Island last fall â€” solving a decades-old military mystery and finally giving the men’s surviving relatives answers about what happened.
A trio of logging engineers happened upon the wreckage last October while working on a remote mountainside near Port Renfrew, B.C., on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The site is barely 50 kilometres west of where the aircraft took off.
“They came across some debris in the forest, and they figured it was a plane crash,” said Michael Pegg of Teal-Jones Cedar Products Ltd., whose engineers made the discovery.
“There were wheels, the engine of the plane, mangled plane parts. There was a boot, shoes and a jacket.”
After examining the wreckage, the engineers were able to determine it was an Avro Anson, a war-era aircraft that was used for commercial and military purposes. They also found out that an Avro Anson had disappeared in the area seven decades earlier.
As it turns out, the stepfather of one of the engineers flew Avro Ansons while in the air force, and they brought him to the site.
“Which was a bit of an ordeal, at 89 years old and you’re going through forest,” said Pegg.
“They got him out to the site along with a friend of his, and they were able to pull some identification numbers off one of the engines.”
They passed along that information to the military, said Pegg
Department of National Defence went to the scene and also discovered human remains in the wreckage, which prompted a call to the BC Coroners Service.
Winter weather prevented the two agencies from mounting a recovery mission until earlier this month, when a coroner and a forensic anthropologist recovered and identified the remains as the four men listed on the flight’s manifest.
“We also found a number of artifacts â€” several wallets, a cigarette lighter, and a couple of other personal items that we were able to link back to the four men on board,” coroner Matt Brown said in an interview.
Royal Canadian Air Force Sgt. William Baird was among the victims, as were three airmen from the British air force: Pilot Officer Charles Fox, Pilot Officer Anthony Lawrence and Sgt. Robert Luckock.
The men’s names have been listed on the Ottawa Memorial as missing, along with nearly 800 people who died in service, transport or training accidents during the Second World War and who have no known grave.
Brown said Baird has family in Alberta, and his surviving relatives have been contacted. In Britain, defence officials have been attempting to track down relatives there, he said.
The Department of National Defence said Canadian and British officials are working to plan an interment ceremony and provide the men with a Commonwealth War Graves plot.
Pegg said it’s been a fascinating story for him and his forestry crew to be part of.
“It touches your heart when you realize there are these families that have been out there not knowing what has happened to their siblings for all these years,” he said.
“Hopefully this will be able to provide some closure to them.”
Follow @ByJamesKeller on Twitter