OTTAWA - U.S. divers searching the wreckage of a U.S. Army amphibious plane that went down in the St. Lawrence River during World War II have recovered what appear to be remains of the crew that went missing nearly seven decades ago.
The plane, a PBY-5A Catalina based in Presque Isle, Maine, had completed the first leg of a routine flight and was taking off for the return trip to base when it capsized in rough weather in the eastern Gulf of Saint Lawrence on Nov. 2, 1942.
Four of the nine people on board were pulled to safety before the plane sank.
Parks Canada discovered the plane in 2009 while conducting a survey near the village of Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan in eastern Quebec. Earlier this month, the Joint Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command, a federal agency that works to recover members of the military who are missing in action, dispatched a 50-person team on the USS Grapple to investigate the site in the hopes of recovering the remains of the missing.
Marc-Andre Bernier, the chief underwater archaeologist for Parks Canada, said from the vessel Monday that some of what appears to be remains has been found and will be sent to a lab to be identified.
The search teams were withholding further details out of respect for the families, he said. The remains were to be transported to a laboratory in Hawaii.
Divers also found a trove of items that amounts to a time capsule of the war years, he said. Sunglasses, navigation and radio equipment, kitchen items as well as a log of operations were recovered.
"The paper is still readable, you can see the typewritten print, it's a list of procedures for the radio," he said. "It's quite phenomenal."
The plane had been left undisturbed until the U.S. divers arrived, Bernier said, save for the intrusion of cameras to have an idea of the conditions inside.
Members of the public also made sure the site remained undisturbed over the years, he said.
The plane was serving an emergency airfield in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan during the war as part of a corridor linking the U.S. to Europe.
After failing to take off following a first attempt, due to high waves, the plane attempted a second takeoff at higher speed but hit a large wave which opened a leak, flooding it with water.
Local fishermen were able to pull the survivors to safety despite the rough seas, according to accounts of the incident.
U.S. officials say the search for the more than 83,000 Americans missing from past conflicts remains of utmost importance.
"This recovery effort is a solemn and significant undertaking," U.S. Consul General Peter O'Donohue said in a statement on the recovery operation. "For the United States, this is a sacred mission to honor those who served their country to the last."