Somewhere on that long, lonely flight, much of it across the featureless Barrens,
Bourassa drifted off course to the east.
He landed on a frozen lake and used the last of his fuel to run the plane onto a beach.
U-2* SEARCHERS FIND BOURASSA'S PLANE
In early September of the same year, a U.S. Air Force U-2 spy plane went down.
Efforts to find the plane and its pilot were carried out in great secrecy.
And during that hunt, searchers discovered an old Bellanca on skis,
parked on the shore of Wholdaia Lake, 450 km southeast of Fort Reliance.
The Tundra Still Holds Its Secrets,
Up Here magazine, September/October 1994
...Missing aircraft are nearly always found eventually, either by search parties or by prospectors, hunters, trappers and pilots who just happen to come across them.
Johnny Bourassa's Bellanca Skyrocket was found, refuelled and flown back to Yellowknife. But no one ever found Johnny Bourassa.
Neil Murphy of Peace River, Alberta, well remembers the day Bourassa disappeared. He should have been with him on that fatal flight in May of 1951, from Yellowknife to Bathurst Inlet and back. Murphy was an air engineer with Yellowknife Airways, for whom Bourassa flew. Bourassa had earned his wings in the RCAF, and had been decorated for his work as a WW II pathfinder - a pilot who goes in ahead of bomber raids to mark the target. "He was from Peace River, too," Murphy says. "We knew each other as kids."
There was just enough snow left on the ground in Yellowknife the day they left to use skis, which would be needed at still-frozen Bathurst Inlet, where Yellowknife Airways had to deliver two loads of cargo for an exploration camp. Bourassa, flying a Norseman, would take one load, with Murphy accompanying him. Another well-known Northern pilot, Ernie Boffa, would take the second load to Bathurst in a Bellanca Skyrocket, then move both his cargo and Bourassa's farther north to its final destination, while Bourassa returned to Yellowknife.
Bourassa planned to land at the Salmita gold mine, some 300 km northeast of Yellowknife, to change his skis for wheels as he headed back south. Salmita had an airstrip, and the snow was going fast in Yellowknife. Murphy could give him a hand with switching the landing gear. "I threw my rifle and sleeping bag in the back of the Norseman," Murphy says. "Then, at the last minute, something came up and I had to stay behind." He would never see Johnny Bourassa again.
Boffa and Bourassa reached Bathurst Inlet without difficulty and overnighted there. Flying north, however, Boffa had discovered the Bellanca's compass wasn't working and its battery was dead. Bourassa agreed to let Boffa finish the charter with the Norseman, while he flew the ailing Skyrocket back to base.
He and Boffa got the Ballanca's engine started by hand-cranking it. But Johnny apparently never noticed until he was airborne and heading south that Boffa had taken his own maps with him in the Norseman, as well as Johnny's. And Murphy's rifle and sleeping bag were still in the Norseman, too.
Somewhere on that long, lonely flight, much of it across the featureless Barrens, Bourassa drifted off course to the east. "We figured he must have crossed Great Slave Lake, which was still frozen over, at the Talthelei Narrows on the East Arm, not recognizing the channel as part of the Big Lake," says Murphy.
Nearly out of gas, Bourassa landed on a frozen lake and used the last of his fuel to run the plane onto a beach, so it would be safe when the lake broke up. For five days he waited for a search plane to find him.
A search had indeed begun, but it was concentrated on the route he should have followed.
"Johnny had often told me that if he ever got lost he'd just keep flying in the same direction while his fuel lasted, on the theory that he'd come across a camp or something he could recognize," Murphy says. "I told the search-master that, but no one would listen."
Bourassa was both a popular pilot and a family man with a wife and two children, and RCAF and civilian planes scoured that area until the end of May before giving up.
In early September of the same year, a U.S. Air Force U-2 spy plane* went down in northern Saskatchewan. Efforts to find the plane and its pilot were carried out in great secrecy (the wreck and the plane's dead pilot were, in fact, recovered and returned to the U.S.). And during that hunt, searchers discovered an old Bellanca on skis, parked on the shore of Wholdaia Lake, 450 km southeast of Fort Reliance. The USAF searchers reported their find to the Ministry of Transport in Edmonton. And Tommy Fox of Associated Airways, which had purchased Yellowknife Airways, immediately sent two crews into Wholdaia Lake to check out the abandoned aircraft. Neil Murphy was in charge of one crew.
"Johnny had left a letter in the cockpit," Murphy recalls. "It said he had waited by the plane for five days, but he'd run out of food and he had no rifle. So he was going to walk out to Fort Reliance." The trouble was, he had no idea how far east of Reliance he was when he landed. He was at least 300 air miles away."
Resourceful to the last, Johnny Bourassa had taken Bellanca's clock, planning to use it as a compass, and he cut a piece of aluminum from the fuselage, to use as a signal mirror.
Murphy and a young Dene member of the search party managed to track Bourassa for some distance. They came across a birch that had been felled to make a crude bridge across a stream. Farther on, they found three spruce trees, close together, which had been set afire, possibly as a distress signal: three shots, three fires, three similar indicators of any kind are a universal distress signal in the bush.
At the mouth of a stream that emptied into a lake west of Wholdaia Lake, the two searchers found a log that appeared to have been cut to form part of a raft. Beyond that point, there was no further trace of Johnny Bourassa.
Inevitably, there were rumours. Within a year or two, Bourassa had reportedly been seen in London, hale and hearty. But Neil Murphy believes he followed Johnny Bourassa's final trail through that trackless wilderness. He's spent enough time in the North to know that when a man's luck runs out up here, that's it.
And that, often, is the tragic story a jumbled pile of metal still tells when you come across it in the Northern Wilderness.
~ end quoting Up Here magazine ~
*CORRECTION: (...My information shows that the U-2 did not fly until 1955, and the launch customer was the CIA. The USAF did not begin to fly the U-2 until several years later...). Go to B-17 PILOT SPOTTED BOURASSA PLANE
The U-2 Airplane Incident, May-July 1960 (On May 1, 1960, a USAF U-2 unarmed reconnaissance plane, piloted by Francis Gary Powers who was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency, was shot down by Soviet military authorities 1,200 miles inside the Soviet Union near Sverdlovsk. In the following days, Nikita Khrushchev exploited the incident to sabotage the summit meeting between the Heads of Government of the United States, Soviet Union, France, and the United Kingdom, which began in Paris on May 16, 1960. Documentation on the relationship between the U-2 incident and the collapse of the summit is in volume IX.... In a memorandum to Goodpaster, August 18, Allen W. Dulles listed all U-2 overflights of Soviet bloc nations, [text not declassified] since the initiation of the U-2 operations on June 20, 1956. [text not declassified] The last flight mentioned was Francis Gary Powers' mission of May 1, 1960...
U-2 Spy Plane: The US Air Force U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft first flew in 1955 and was developed by Lockheed Martin at the famous Skunk Works site. The aircraft provides continuous surveillance day and night and in all weathers. The aircraft can gather surveillance and signals intelligence data in real time and can be deployed anywhere in the world...
EDWARD VIII STAMPS/POSTBOX/ABDICATION and ORWELL'S WALLINGTON ROYAL MAIL DELIVERY
Searching for Johnny Bourassa (compilation of articles and photos)
LEGENDS LOUIS & JOHNNY BOURASSA and YUKON SURVIVORS FLORES FRIEND STORY and PILOT MCCALLUM RESCUED YUKON SURVIVORS and B-17 PILOT SPOTTED BOURASSA PLANE and THE FLYING BOURASSA BROTHERS and JOHNNY BOURASSA DIAMOND IN ROUGH and POEM MEMORY OF LOUIS BOURASSA and SNOW WALKER JOHNNY BOURASSA and U-2 SEARCHERS FIND BOURASSA PLANE and JOHNNY BOURASSA'S MISSING PLANE and JOHNNY BOURASSA FLIES FARLEY MOWAT and THE BOURASSAS OF PEACE RIVER and TRIBUTE TO LOUIS & JOHNNY BOURASSA
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