Bomber was unlawfully seized: marine lawyer

An Alberta family didn't have an historical-resources permit when they salvaged a Second World War bomber out of Watson Lake. But it doesn't matter because, technically, the bomber isn't an historic resource.

An Alberta family didn’t have an historical-resources permit when they salvaged a Second World War bomber out of Watson Lake.

But it doesn’t matter because, technically, the bomber isn’t an historic resource, argues Victoria-based marine lawyer Darren Williams, who is representing the family.

After two decades of research and training, amateur historian John Jasman, along with his wife, son and brother Brian, successfully pulled a B-26 Marauder from Watson Lake last week.

Almost immediately, the plane was seized by Watson Lake RCMP.

Charges are being laid under the Yukon Historic Resources Act.

“No person shall search or excavate for historic objects or human remains except in accordance with a historic resources permit,” reads section 62 of the act.

The Jasmans didn’t have a permit, but the bomber isn’t an historic object, said Williams.

An “historic object” is defined as either an archeological artifact or a paleontological find.

A bomber is a manufactured industrial item, not a “one-off” piece of archaeological record.

“If a plane is an artifact, then what stops a 50-year-old toaster from being an archeological item as well?” said Williams.

An historic artifact can also be an “abandoned” object more than 45 years old.

The B-26 was never abandoned, said Williams.

The US government has surrendered all claims to the crashed aircraft, but waterways such as Watson Lake fall under federal jurisdiction.

As such, the crashed B-26 is, and always has been, the property of the Canadian government.

“Until such time as the federal government comes back and says, ‘We don’t want it, you can have it,’ we say it’s not abandoned,” said Williams.

The Jasmans are just the latest private salvagers to strip the territory of historic resources, said Jeff Hunston, the manager of heritage resources for the Department Of Tourism and Culture.

“Old airplanes are hot commodities … it’s pretty wild and woolly at times,” he said.

The family claims no profit motive in salvaging the bomber.

“They’re not pirates, and they’re not Indiana Jones,” said Williams.

Without private salvors like the Jasmans, the Watson Lake B-26 would likely have crumbled into rust, warn vintage aircraft enthusiasts.

The Yukon government had no plans to salvage the aircraft.

“The Yukon government has known about these planes for years, and they haven’t done a darn thing about it,” said Williams.

“Then somebody else comes along and risks their money and their safety to do something about it, and they find it convenient to jump in and seize it,” he said.

Even as it takes legal action against the Jasmans, the government has no plans to restore the seized bomber.

It hasn’t even bothered to cover the plane with a tarp.

“If this artifact is so incredibly important to them, then why let it rot at the bottom of the lake?” said Williams.

“Do you think the Yukon government would really be ponying up the cash right now to have somebody remove that from the lake?” he said. “I don’t think so, somehow.”

Following its seizure by the RCMP, the wreck was left in an unguarded area, where it was quickly vandalized by local souvenir hunters.

“We don’t want other treasure hunters going over to it and pulling parts off of it,” said Watson Lake detachment commander Sgt. Paul Thalhofer after refusing to reveal where it was stored.

The US-made B-26 was originally bound for Siberia, where it was to be used by the Soviet Air Force.

Thanks to an icy stopover in Watson Lake, the aircraft never reached its destination.

“Pilot, attempting to make an emergency landing in poor light, skidded down the runway about 100 yards and ran into a snowbank. The plane was damaged beyond repair,” read the official US military crash report.

When the lake ice melted, the plane sank to the bottom.

There are only eight restored B-26 Marauders worldwide, most of which are in American aviation museums.

The Jasmans have a court date for July 14.

Contact Tristin Hopper at