RCMP seize salvaged bomber

An Alberta couple's attempt to salvage a piece of Second World War aviation history has been cut short by Yukon authorities.

An Alberta couple’s attempt to salvage a piece of Second World War aviation history has been cut short by Yukon authorities.

Early this week, RCMP officials seized the nose of a B-26 Martin Marauder that the couple had salvaged from Watson Lake.

“They did not have a permit or permission to salvage or remove wreckage from the area,” said RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Mark Groves.

The RCMP and heritage officials agreed to seize the artifact before it could be moved out of the territory.

“These are our assets, we’re going to manage them in the best interests of the Yukon public,” said Jeff Hunston, the manager of heritage resources for the Department of Tourism and Culture.

Several years ago, private salvagers pulled a P-39 Airacobra out of Carpenter Lake, NWT, but were stopped by government officials before they reached the US border.

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

After a year of legal wranglings, the Airacobra was successfully transferred to a US-based restoration facility.

If artifacts are continually shipped out of the territory, Yukon museums may never be able to adequately showcase the Yukon’s role as a staging ground for Second World War aviation, said Hunston.

“That’s an important story, and the heritage relating to that needs to be here in the Yukon, not somewhere else,” said Hunston.

More than 7,000 US-built planes were flown through the Yukon en route to the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

The planes were being delivered to the Soviet Air Force as part of a US effort to harry the Eastern flank of Nazi Germany.

The salvaged B-26 was part of a flight of six Siberia-bound aircraft that set out in January, 1942.

Three became lost, ran out of fuel and were forced to crash-land on the BC-Yukon border.

Just outside Watson Lake, pilot G.S. Stevens noticed that his craft had also run out of gas. He crash-landed the craft on the frozen surface of Watson Lake.

The crew was quickly rescued, the wrecked plane was stripped for parts and, when the spring melt came, it broke through the ice and sank to the bottom.

Another B-26 crashed in Whitehorse, where it now lies buried under the runway.

Only one of the original six Marauders made it safely to Fairbanks.

January, 1942 may have been a bad month for B-26 Marauder crews, but it would turn out to be a boon to future aircraft collectors.

Of the aircraft that came down on the BC-Yukon border, all three have found their way into the hands of collectors.

One has been restored to flight capability and is housed at the Fantasy of Flight museum in Polk, Florida. Collectors estimate its value at $1,700,000.

The two others are being restored at sites in Pima, Florida, and Akron, Ohio.

Watson Lake’s B-26 belongs in a “Yukon museum, rather than a museum in Arizona or Alabama,” said Hunston.

Watson Lake is a key target for vintage-aircraft hunters, mainly because of the area’s sheer volume of air crashes.

“There were a lot of military accidents around Watson Lake,” said local aviation historian Bob Cameron.

A busy transfer station during the war, Watson Lake saw many planes brought down simply by the crippling cold weather.

After the war, the British and Canadian air forces adopted Watson Lake as a cold weather testing station—spurring many more horrific air crashes.

Watson Lake visitors can still see the remnants of an Avro Lincoln that was brought down in 1948 because of fuel problems.

Vintage aircraft enthusiasts have accused the Yukon government of damaging preservation efforts.

All too often, governments seize heritage resources, only to lock them “inside warehouses that never see the light of day, or where people, including museum staff, will never see them,” wrote one post on an online vintage aircraft forum.

Were it not for independent salvagers, Watson Lake’s B-26 might never have seen the light of day.

Two, more unwelcome, pieces of World War Two have also surfaced in Watson Lake.

Within the past few days, a Watson Lake construction crew dug up a pair of what appears to be two war-era 500-pound (226.8-kilogram) bombs.

“We don’t know if they are live or just duds,” said Canadian Forces liaison Henry Kemka.

The bombs have been cordoned off until they can be inspected by bomb experts from National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

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