Bid to solve mystery of Lake Champlain jet crash

Associated PressJuly 17, 2014 

— The private jet carrying five people disappeared soon after departure from a Vermont airport on a snowy night 43 years ago, leaving no trace for searchers who believe it crashed into Lake Champlain.

Initial searches for the 10-seat Jet Commander turned up no wreckage and the lake froze over four days after the plane was lost on Jan. 27, 1971, shortly after it departed Burlington.

Now, authorities in New York and Vermont, spurred by curiosity after the Malaysia Airlines disappearance in March, are mounting a fresh search and hope new technology will find the wreck.

Starting Friday, divers, high-resolution sonar, a submarine and the experience of experts volunteering their time will be brought to bear on the mystery of what happened to a plane that was recorded by radar at 5,000 feet one second and gone the next.

"I'm hopeful," said New York State Police Capt. John Tibbitts. "They did everything they could at the time with the available technology."

Some items from the plane washed up over the years, he said, but without the wreckage there was no way for aviation safety investigators to determine what happened.

Tibbitts said pilot George Nikita and co-pilot Donald Myers each had thousands of hours experience flying Jet Commanders and on that night had departed for Providence, Rhode Island, carrying three employees of the Atlanta development company Cousin's Properties: Robert Williams III, Frank Wilder and R. Kirby Windsor.

"The goal is to locate and recover the remains to finally bring some closure to these families," Tibbitts said.

The new search was organized after New York Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Ranger Scott Van Laer began thinking about parallels to Malaysia Air Flight 370 vanishing.

Tibbitts said Van Laer has been chronicling crashes in the Adirondacks region professionally and personally and rallied interest in trying to resolve the mystery.

Vermont and New York state police divers will be involved in the search, along with experts Tibbitts said will bring some new ideas along with more advanced technology.

Lake Champlain is 400 feet deep in parts and presents a daunting challenge for divers.

"It's a deep, dark lake," Tibbitts said.

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