A plane carrying 5 people mysteriously disappeared in 1971. Experts claim to have found the wreckage in Lake Champlain.

Fifty-three years after a private plane carrying five men disappeared on a snowy Vermont night, experts believe they have found the wreckage of the long-lost plane in Lake Champlain.

The business jet disappeared shortly after departing Burlington Airport for Providence, Rhode Island, on January 1. 27, 1971. Among those on board were two crew members and three employees of the development company Cousin’s Properties, in Atlanta, Georgia, who were working on a development project in Burlington.

Initial searches for the 10-seat Jet Commander revealed no wreckage and the lake, which is 400 feet at its deepest point, froze over for four days after the plane was lost. At least 17 more searches took place, until underwater researcher Garry Kozak and a team using a remotely operated vehicle found the wreckage of a plane with the same custom paint scheme in the lake last month , near where the radio control tower had last tracked the plane before. it’s gone. Sonar images were taken from the wreckage found 200 feet away near Juniper Island. The island is just over 3 miles southwest of Burlington.

In this May 2024 image provided by Garry Kozak, the remains of what experts believe to be a 10-seat Jet Commander plane lie on the bottom of Lake Champlain off the coast of Juniper Island, Vermont.

Garry Kozak/AP

“With all this evidence, we are absolutely 99% sure,” Kozak said Monday.

The discovery of the wreck in Lake Champlain, located between New York and Vermont, gives the victims’ families “a little closure and answers to a lot of questions they had,” he said.

Kozak told CBS affiliate WCAX-TV that the search may have taken a long time because the planes broke into several hard-to-spot pieces.

“A jet literally looks like a pile of rocks. So for most people looking at sonar data, they can ignore it because they’ll say, ‘Oh, that looks like geology.’ ” Kozak told the station.

According to his website, Kozak’s career in underwater research and survey began in 1972 and his company specializes in locating wrecks and aircraft. In 2012, Kozak was part of a team that discovered a German submarine of the Second World War in the waters off Nantucket.

Although loved ones are grateful and relieved that the plane was found, the discovery also raises other questions and old wounds.

“Having this discovered now… it’s a peaceful feeling, but at the same time it’s a very sad feeling,” Barbara Nikita, niece of pilot George Nikita, said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press . “We know what happened. We’ve seen some photos. It’s hard to think about it now.”

Frank Wilder’s father, also Frank Wilder, was a passenger on the plane.

“Going 53 years without knowing if the plane was in the lake or maybe on a mountainside somewhere nearby was painful,” said Wilder, who lives outside Philadelphia. “And again, I feel relieved to know where the plane is now, but unfortunately it opens up other questions and we have to work on them now.”

When the ice melted in the spring of 1971, debris from the plane was found at Shelburne Point, according to Kozak. An underwater search in May 1971 failed to find the wreck. At least 17 other searches took place, including in 2014, according to Kozak. At that time, the authorities were stimulated by curiosity after the Malaysia Airlines plane disappears that year in the hopes that new technology would find the wreckage, but it didn’t.

Barbara Nikita, who lives in Southern California, and her cousin Kristina Nikita Coffey, who lives in Tennessee, recently led the search and contacted relatives of other victims.

What was fascinating about reconnecting with the group was that “everyone had pieces of the pie and the puzzle: when we started sharing information and documents, we got a much better understanding and a better perspective of information, and how we have all been affected by it. ” said Charles Williams, whose father, Robert Ransom Williams III, an employee of Cousin’s Properties, was on the plane.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating to see if it is the plane, Williams said. The NTSB does not conduct rescue operations, which would be costly, Williams said.

“Where there are tangible remains, and I hate to say it that way, and it’s worth bothering with, that’s a decision we’ll have to figure out later, and part of what we’re unpacking now “, did he declare. “It’s hard when you start thinking about it.”

Relatives of the victims plan to hold a memorial service now that they know where the plane is.

The announcement of the discovery comes about 10 months after the wreck of a The Tuskegee Airman’s plane which crashed during a training mission during World War II has been recovered from Lake Huron.

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