Lac Simon Plane Crash - RC3 Republic Sea Bee
Found by: Guy Morin, Chris Koberstein & Dan Scoville
Location: Lac Simon, Quebec
Lac Simon, Quebec - A Republic RC-3 SeaBee has been found in the deep waters of Lac Simon, Quebec. The discovery ends the mystery of this lost aircraft that has endured for fifty years. Guy Morin and Chris Koberstein located the aircraft using sophisticated side scanning sonar equipment.
Hunting expedition ends in tragedy
On November 21st 1957, the Republic RC-3 SeaBee piloted by Gaetan Deshaies made three trips between Lac du Diable (Devil's Lake) and Schryer lake to bring a party back from a hunting expedition. The first trip returned cargo and game. The second trip brought four of the members back, and necessitated a precautionary landing on Lac Simon to await clear weather. Conditions that day were windy and snow squalls reduced visibility to zero at times. The final trip included the last three members of the hunting party: Tony Chivazza, Philippe Ouimet, Louis Hamel and their hunting dog. The plane and its occupants were lost on a crash landing in Lac Simon. Evidence confirming the loss in Lac Simon included the discovery of the dog on the shore of the lake. An autopsy performed on the dog revealed the cause of death to be coronary hemorrhaging, a sign the animal had suffered a deadly impact. A child reported seeing a plane performing pirouettes in the sky that day, and local farmers reported hearing a strange sound similar to a muffled impact. A substantial search and rescue operation was conducted to locate the aircraft which focused on Lac Simon. Even with the use of electronic search equipment, grappling hooks and SCUBA divers, the plane and its occupants could not be found. Over the past fifty years the mysterious disappearance of the SeaBee aircraft turned to legend in the Lac Simon area.
The discovery of the remains of the aircraft was made in 2007 utilizing sophisticated side scan sonar technology with the assistance of Dan Scoville. The sonar imagery showed a substantial debris field surrounding the wreck, demonstrating the severity of the impact. This debris field includes the port passenger and forward doors, two of the occupant's bodies, a rifle, the port sponson (wing tip float) and other items. The Seabee was found in deep water, well beyond recreational limits for SCUBA diving of 135 feet. These depths necessitated the use of advanced diving techniques to confirm the identity of the plane. Morin and Koberstein made use of mixed gas diving techniques involving gas mixtures of helium, nitrogen and oxygen as well as rebreather technology to perform dives on the wreck. A remote operated vehicle developed by Scoville was used to map the debris field and to identify, locate items, and document the site using video. The registration letters were clearly visible on the body of the aircraft confirming its identification.
Exploring the Wrecked Aircraft
In the deep and cold waters where the plane rests, there is no visible light to illuminate the plane. The remote operated vehicle uses artificial lighting to bring back images of the aircraft. The plane rests upright on the bottom and shows many signs of the violence of the impact. The cabin is crushed by the weight of the engine bearing down upon impact, with the roof pressed to the instrument panel. The fuselage is curled upward with several kinks at key structural junctures. One such crimp immediately aft of the front seats seals the passenger section, entombing the two rear passengers within. The tail is arched upward similar to a scorpion's tail. Moving closer to the pilot's seat, the port door is open, the glass is gone. A rifle rests on the pilot's seat, balanced on the edge with the stock protruding from the fuselage. The starboard wing shows many signs of structural damage with the missing sponson and strut, multiple bends, and misaligned flap and aileron. The sponson and strut were located 150 feet away in the debris field. The propeller is in perfect condition and resting in a vertical position, both signs that it may not have been turning during impact. The starboard and forward doors are missing and are located over a hundred feet away. Two of the occupants of the aircraft were thrown a distance from the aircraft. The boots they were wearing are still visible along with the belt and knives that they wore for the hunt.
The discovery is the culmination of intensive research efforts by Morin. The search began well over a decade ago with archived materials of the period including newspapers and Government of Canada files. Weather data from the period was obtained through Environment Canada to elucidate how the floating debris came to rest where it was found. Weather modeling of floating debris provided useful clues on where the wreck may be located. A probability model was developed to organize the search effort. Interviews were conducted with individuals familiar with the events of the time to obtain added information. The field work was equally demanding due to the underwater topography of the lake. Lac Simon has depths of over 300 feet over much of its area necessitating extended cabling for the sonar probe, and further requires careful navigation to contend with the underwater pinnacles and narrow fissures. The underwater topography has an additional challenge in creating illusions for the sonar in the forms of rocky outcroppings, clay shelves and other elements such as trees and logs. The search was challenging because of the nature of the target. Airplanes are known to be very difficult to detect, and may offer a very slight signature on the sonar record. This requires careful analysis of the sonar record, and increases the number of targets that must be investigated. The remote operated vehicle built by Scoville and utilized by the team was key in performing the extensive target investigation and providing the added knowledge to improve target interpretation.
Republic RC-3 SeaBee
It has been more than half a century since the last Seabee amphibian rolled off the production lines at Republic Aviation Corp of Farmingdale, New York. A total of 1060 Seabees were manufactured by Republic Aviation Corporation from 1945 to 1947. These aircraft were exported in numbers, to countries like Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, England, India, Mexico, Norway, Sweden and Uruguay. The Seabee was one of the most popular bushplanes and air ambulances in the late 1940s and in the 1950s in countries like Canada, Norway, Sweden and the USA. Many stories can be told about life-saving missions flown by hero Seabee pilots to rescue seriously ill persons from remote islands and wilderness. Even today, a few Seabees are still earning their keep commercially - as bushplanes, air taxis and school planes! In the World of Aviation, probably only the DC-3 transports have had longer commercial careers than the Seabees. Several museums such as the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario features a SeaBee on display. Designed for the postwar civilian aircraft market and with a retail price of $4500 at the time, SeaBees are currently valued between $50000 to $175000. For additional information and images of the Seabee aircraft on the bottom of Lac Simon, visit our website:
UPDATE as of July 2008
The families are waiting for the DNA results from the collected remains. The fourth victim remains somewhere at the bottom in the continuing and unyielding mystery. The photos collected from relatives provided important guidance in narrowing the field for DNA analysis. The pilot did have his piloting licence, aiding in identification and placing him on the site where initially hypothesized in front of the plane. The victim found behind the plane is likely to be Tony Chiavazza owing to the gloves found on the victim. The photographs from the morning of the tragedy showed he was the only hunter wearing this form of apparel. The victim found in the back of plane within the luggage compartment is believed to be one of the remaining victims, either Philippe Hamel or Philippe Ouimet.
Following the recovery, the plane and the various artifacts found on board the plane have been collected and are in the process of being restored, preserved or examined. The plane yielded clues corroborating theories regarding the accident. The pilot's remains indicated a possible injury to the lower leg since it was apparently severed from the body. A dent on the inboard side of the port strut at a level plausible for such a shock to have occurred may support the hypothesis. Once extracted, the hull revealed several indications of the violence of the crash. The hull plates are concave and crumpled in various locations. The hull plates are severed at the strongest structural point where the landing gear supports are located. This is the main indentation in the fuselage that gave the wreck it's eerie arch at the bottom.
The motor still turned and is in an astounding state, notwithstanding rusting of steel parts unprotected by oil. The crankcase was still full of oil and without a drop of water. The carburetor is in good shape and in working order. The most questionable aspect of the motor is the ignition wiring. Given the discoloration and the proximity of the metal bulkheads through which the wiring for the spark plugs ran as well as the cracked insulation, it is possible that the ignition was not reliable and compromised by the snow from the severe weather. The speed indicator was frozen at 75 MPH, indicating a normal landing velocity. When coupled with the fully deployed flaps, it is equally possible the altitude gauge falsely read higher altitude given the drop in pressure generated by the weather system. A stall is also indicated given the undamaged propeller. The propeller is manufactured by Hartzell and is made of Hartzite, one of the first commercial composite materials used in the manufacture of aircraft parts. The SeeBee is the first design on which these propellers were used. Given that the paint is severely weathered and patchy combined with the potential for an attractive artefact, it is being restored according to the manufacturers' recommendations.
The instruments are immersed in water and await analysis with the transport authorities in the hope of shedding more light on the circumstances of the crash. The mechanical gauges may have markings on the fine mechanical parts resulting from the shock of the crash and may yield clues as to registered altitude, speed, horizon and trim on impact. An 8mm Bell & Howell manual movie film camera was found on board and had film within. Processing did not yield any images as the emulsion only lasts a few weeks when immersed in water. Other artefacts include a fire extinguisher, buttons from a hunting vest, Pepsi bottles as captured on the images of the morning, the microphone and headset for the radio and a few more items.
Aircraft Discovery Team
Guy Morin started diving and exploring the rivers and lakes in his youth. This interest led to an extensive education in cave, wreck and "technical" diving to explore beyond 300 feet using custom gas mixtures and equipment. Professional interests derived from his degrees in Mechanical and Electrical engineering has allowed Guy to construct diver propulsion vehicles and rebreathers to enhance and extend the diving experience. He owns and operates a sidescan sonar used to discover the wreck of the Republic RC-3 SeaBee. He has a passion for researching archives for leads and insights into wrecks. Guy currently engages in consulting work in the field of integrated circuit design for telecommunications and space applications.
Chris Koberstein is an experienced cave, "technical" and rebreather diver. Chris uses sophisticated rebreather diving equipment to explore depths to over 300 feet. He provides key diving expertise for the expedition and confirmed the presence of wreckage belonging to the Republic RC-3 SeaBee. Chris endeavors as an aircraft maintenance technician with Air Canada.
Dan Scoville is an experienced cave and "technical" diver and uses custom gas mixtures to dive to depths of over 300 feet. Dan pioneered the development of a new class of remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and endeavors with Hydroacoustics Inc where he manages the ROV product line. Utilizing his side scan sonar and remote operated vehicle, he has collaborated in the discovery of several significant historical shipwrecks in lake Ontario.
Guy Morin - Email: Tel. 613-276-7290
Chris Koberstein - Email: Tel. 450-458-3590
Dan Scoville - Email: Tel 585-261-3793