The piece fits perfectly. It is just the confirmation Squamish's John Buchanan expected but was still excited to experience.
Buchanan has been out to the Paradise Valley site of the 1957 plane crash of two T-33s at least a dozen times since an airplane wing, believed to be from that crash, was found in a ditch by local Carl Halvorson on Government Road back in mid-June.
Buchanan and Halvorson dug the wing up and took it to Buchanan's home where he has been working to uncover the mystery ever since.
From very early in his research — which included mapping co-ordinates, reading old newspaper clippings, a manual for T-33s and eventually the help of various airplane enthusiasts — he felt it belonged to the 1957 crash.
On Sunday, Jan. 13, 1957 two Royal Canadian Airforce T-33s [aircraft numbers 449 and 460] collided in mid-air over Cheakamus Canyon.
Bernie McCormack and Ray Martin bailed out of their plane and lived to tell the tale.
The bodies of the navigator and pilot from the other plane — Burton Patkau, 27, and Roderick Atkins, 19 — were later recovered.
McCormack himself has chimed in with some words of wisdom to help Buchanan navigate the crash site.
Though it seems strange today, back in the 1950s and 1960s, such military airplane wreckages were not always wholly salvaged after the investigation into the crash was complete, a public affairs officer with the Royal Canadian Airforce's 19 Wing Comox previously explained to The Chief.
Searching with a metal detector, Buchanan has found dozens of plane parts from the wreckage of the downed plane that carried the pilots who died.
He used an old parts catalogue for the original airframe to match up the components.
He also went out to the Canadian Museum of Flight where staff gave him access to their display T-33, which was hugely helpful, he said.
“Let me put it to you this way, I was trying to piece together the world’s most difficult puzzle using a few scattered fragments from a crash 61 years ago. Having an intact T-33 to work with was huge.”
At the wreckage site, which is along the Sea to Sky Trail, an approximately one-ton rock covered a large part.
Buchanan, who is a train mechanic by trade, used his hydraulic jack to flip the rock to uncover the part.
“One of those pieces that was under that boulder, happened to match perfectly with Carl’s wing. It was a perfect fit,” Buchanan said, his voice rising excitedly at the memory.
A large metal component he found under the rock — from the mid section fuselage — matched the exact tear path on the wing. It is like matching fingerprints, in essence.
“What are the odds, after 61 years of sitting under that boulder, and it happens to be the piece that fits?”
The dozens of parts and fragments he took from the site and documented, he plans to return to where he found them.
“It maintains that site’s integrity,” he said.
The whole project has been a steep learning curve.
“I didn’t even know what a T-33 was a couple of months ago,” he said with a laugh. “If a T-33 landed in front of my driveway right now and he had troubles, I would walk up to him and say ‘I can fix that.’”
Buchanan would like to see a memorial erected on the site of the crash, perhaps using the wing, which still sits in his Squamish yard.
“I think the site still really needs to be recognized for those two individuals who died, so I am going to be working to get some type of memorial up there,” he said, adding that the area currently is unkempt, and dotted with human feces as it is near where campers set up each summer.
“It is disgusting. So that is one of the reasons we need to get a memorial plaque up there — explain to people what the site is, and maybe people would respect it a little bit better.
In the meantime, he wants to head out again and uncover the wreckage of the second jet, which carried McCormack and Martin.