September 08, 2011 Features & Images » Feature Story

A Callaghan mystery 

Search continues for plane that went missing in 1956


In 1956 a military plane on a routine training mission vanished into the thin air above Whistler.

In its wake, two wives - Mary and Olive - lost their husbands. Six children lost their fathers. Parents lost their sons.

Gone in an instant. Lives changed forever. And an enduring, unanswerable, gnawing question remained: what happened to First Officers James Miller and Gerald Stubbs of the 409 Squadron of RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force)?

The answer is buried somewhere in the Callaghan Valley.

Every so often the Callaghan gives up another clue but it hasn't revealed the whole story... not yet. Then again, it may keep this mystery a secret forever.

"Missing person files are fascinating," says RCMP Staff Sergeant Steve LeClair. "I feel that they should be investigated until all possible leads are completely exhausted."

On March 22, Miller and Stubbs set off on an instrument flying practice flight in a T-33 Silver Star. The flight was scheduled to take an hour-and-a-half and was supposed to be within a 100-mile radius of the air force base in Comox on Vancouver Island.

They took off two minutes before 10 a.m.

Twenty minutes later, at 10:17 a.m., they were last sited by radar entering bad weather.

They were never seen again.

Until... November 1974. That's when the canopy of their plane was found in the Callaghan Valley.

That's not where the search and rescue was focused in the 15 days after the disappearance.

The military scoured all the ports and covered 11,700 square kilometres for the pair, all for naught.

It took almost 20 years until there was the first inkling of what happened to Stubbs and Miller.

Brad Sills, who owns Callaghan Country Lodge, ran into two of the gentlemen who found the canopy years later when they were back in the valley, looking for more clues to the mystery.

"I wouldn't say they were driven by it but it was something they would from time to time embark upon," recalls Sills.

Sills too was intrigued. Looking the clues, wondering about what happened to these pilots has been a part of his life for almost 30 years.

In July 1998 the plane's fuselage was found in the area about a kilometre away from Sills's lodge. Another clue.

In October 2010 the remains of a flight helmet were found, identified by the squadron colours. It belonged to either Stubbs or Miller.

Sills believes one, or both, survived the plane crash. In fact, he says he thinks he found their primitive camp... he just didn't know what it was at the time.

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