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Did a Lancaster bomber crash into Lake Simcoe?
Did a Lancaster bomber crash into Lake Simcoe?
Is there a World War II Lancaster bomber hidden somewhere beneath Lake Simcoe?
Someone certainly seems to think so.
Despite any evidence to support that claim, the story of a Lancaster crashing into the waters north of Barrie sometime during the war remains an urban legend that has endured around the area for years, and continues to pop up every now and again.
How and when this tale originated remains a mystery. Details of the event are as elusive as the fabled monster of Loch Ness. Locals who have lived in the area surrounding the lake are divided on whether they have ever heard the account themselves, yet there exists a sizable enough group of believers to keep the legend alive, even generations after that event supposedly occurred.
More recently, the recovery of a WWII-era bombsight compass from the shoreline near Eight Mile Point, along the northeastern end of Lake Simcoe, has renewed interest in the Lancaster story. It is here that modern investigations begin, with a multitude of questions and very few definitive answers.
THE BOMBSIGHT DISCOVERY
In April 2011, then 12-year-old Brayden Parker was walking along the shores of Lake Simcoe near his home on Eight Mile Point, only a few kilometers south of the city of Orillia. On that day, the ice that had covered the lake was beginning to break up as the spring thaw finally took hold.
Brayden was throwing stones through the softening ice when he spotted a strange glint beneath the water, only a few feet from shore. As an avid collector of all things the lake chose to reveal, this shiny object captured his attention at once. Rushing back to his house, he returned with a fishing net which he then used to retrieve that item from the frigid waters.
When the shiny bit was drawn free, what Brayden had found proved to be the keystone to an account that still has yet to be told to its end.
Markings on the strange object appeared as:
ONTARIO HUGHES OWENS CO. LTD.
Although the glass lens was broken, the device itself appeared to function properly.
Possessed of a keen interest in all things military, young Brayden enlisted the help of his mother, Ellen, to determine the identity of the thing he had found. Thus began a quest for information that remains unfinished to this date.
CALLING ON THE EXPERTS
The tale of Brayden Parker’s discovery reached Raymond Bowe, a journalist for The Barrie Examiner. In an article titled Wartime Mystery Surfaces in Lake (i), Mr Bowe chronicles an investigation that spans outward to sources as diverse as Master Warrant Officer Normand Marion, Public Affairs Officer for 16 Wing at Base Borden; to Laurel Clegg, a Casualty Identification Coordinator with the Department of National Defence. Unfortunately, Mr Bowe’s article raises perhaps as many questions as it strives to answer.
A statement attributed to Ms Clegg foretells of the difficulties that are encountered when one attempts to unravel a mystery of this type. Regarding the bombsight compass found by young Brayden Parker, Ms Clegg professes: "Unfortunately, a lot of this stuff is mass produced and could be switched. . . . The cannibalization of equipment makes linking a specific component to a particular aircraft that much more difficult. " (ii)
A search of the DND’s records dating back to the war era proved somewhat more helpful. A total of four aircraft crashes were reported during that time frame, with one possibility proving to be a strong contender as the source of the bombsight discovered at Eight Mile Point.
14 February 1942
A North American Harvard Mk.II (Aircraft No. 2616) was part of a 3-plane formation flying over Lake Simcoe at 15,000 feet. In poor weather, Royal Canadian Air Force Provisional Flight Officer James T Martin, and Royal Australian Air Force Lead Aircraftman Frank Howarth, went into the lake. Though the other aircraft in their flight circled back, they were unable to locate the wreckage of No. 2616. The remains of PFO Martin and LA Howarth, and of the Harvard airplane they were flying, were never recovered. Today, the consensus is that No. 2616 went down approximately 10 kilometers from shore, some 12 kilometers northeast of Big Bay Point. (iii)
16 October 1942
An Avro Anson Mk.II aircraft piloted by Royal Air Force Pilot Sergeant Edward Eaves was lost in Lake Simcoe. Onboard Aircraft No. 7550 were two passengers: RAF Volunteer Reserve Sergeant Rythwyn Davies, and RCAF Flying Officer William Nugent. The official report of the loss claims the starboard wing of the Anson clipped a tree, causing the aircraft to spin and tumble into the ground. All three airmen onboard were killed when the Anson exploded. Their remains, as well as those of their aircraft, were recovered. (iv)
9 February 1945
Harvard Mk.II (Aircraft No. 2987), with RCAF Flying Officer James D H Martin and RAAF Lead Aircraftman Gordon Powell was lost in Lake Simcoe during an instrument training flight. As with Anson No. 7550, the remains of the pilots and their aircraft were recovered. (v)
A LIKELY CANDIDATE
The general consensus of most investigators who have delved into the origins of the bombsight recovered by Brayden Parker is an agreement that this device would not have come from either of the Harvard trainers lost to the lake, nor from the Avro Anson, as none of these aircraft were fitted with this type of equipment during their service lifetimes.
A more likely candidate for Master Parker’s bombsight emerges in the form of a Fairey Battle (Aircraft No. 1626) which was lost in Lake Simcoe in 1940.
The Fairey Battle was a single-engine aircraft that was used as both a light bomber and a bomber trainer during the war. Though the usual crew compliment of a Battle Mk.I was three persons, it was not unusual for these aircraft to be flown by a pilot alone during training exercises.
Laurel Clegg confirms that a Fairey Battle “[would likely] have been equipped with an Owens-Hughes [sic] bombsight in its role as a bomber trainer.” (vi)
2 September 1940
Fairey Battle No. 1626, flown by RCAF Provisional Pilot Officer Maxwell Stephen of Toronto, went down near Big Bay Point on the southern shore of Kempenfelt Bay, near Big Bay Point Road and 25 Sideroad in modern day Innisfil. (vii)
The problem with this hypothesis is that both the remains of PPO Maxwell and his aircraft were reportedly recovered from the crash site.
But was the aircraft recovered intact? Or might it be possible that some portion of the damaged wreck might have been lost to the lake? Could this be the source of the enigmatic bombsight compass recovered by Brayden Parker in 2011?
BACK TO THE LANCASTER LEGEND
While the Fairey Battle theory is perhaps the most promising resolution to the quandary of the Eight Mile Point bombsight, that speculation has not led to any end of conjecture regarding the rumours of a Lancaster bomber going down in Lake Simcoe.
Laurel Clegg claims: “Most Lancasters went down in remote areas.” (viii)
Furthermore, the DND claims to have extensive records pertaining to aircraft wrecks that occurred during the war years, however “there is a significant gap when it comes to post-war crashes, specifically [from the period of the] late-1940s to the early-1950s.” (ix)
This existing gap provides a window of opportunity for the nay-sayers who claim the Lancaster story might still be true.
According to Carol Launderville, a Communications Officer with the Canadian Coast Guard, who was sought out by Mr Bowe for his article in the Barrie Examiner, Coast Guard records do not mention a Lancaster bomber in Lake Simcoe.
However, Ms Launderville concedes, the depth of the water in the lake is sufficient that any such wreck would likely not pose a danger to navigation, and therefore any such wreck, if it did exist, would not require recording on official charts. (x)
THE PEOPLE VS OFFICIAL DOCTRINE
Public message boards maintained by private civilian divers who have frequented the Lake Simcoe waters appear to dispute any claim that the Lancaster story might be nothing more than an urban myth.
On the website www.scubaboard.com, there exists an ongoing exchange between members that specifically discusses the possibility of a Lancaster bomber being somewhere at the bottom of Lake Simcoe.
Of interest to this point is the fact that the first mention of that possibility is dated 28 December 2008, a full three years before Brayden Parker recovered the bombsight compass from the Eight Mile Point area. This confirms that the discovery of the bombsight compass was not the catalyst that created the legend in question, but simply another chapter on the ongoing saga.
Members of the Scubaboard.com website are identified by Internet aliases. Portions of their discussion on this matter are provided below:
ROASTBEEF – 28 Dec 2008
Years ago, there was a diving club in Toronto who sank a Cessna airplane body in Lake Simcoe.
IMASINKER – 30 Dec 2008
Sorry, I don’t know much about that one,
but I have a buddy of mine who tells me there is an old Lancaster bomber in Simcoe.
JIMMER – 30 Dec 2008
If you find info about a Lancaster, let me know.
IMASINKER – 31 Dec 2008
Basically, it’s a boat dive.
My buddy is going to take us out and show us the location,
just off shore a bit too far for a surface swim.
He hasn’t been there for a few years,
and we don’t know the condition of the plane itself.
SCUBASTEVE – 31 Dec 2008
Hopefully you can log the GPS coordinates and post them.
JIMMER – 31 Dec 2008
What’s the depth on the site?
IMASINKER – 31 Dec 2008
It was quoted around the 80-90-foot range.
It was about 5 years ago he did the dive. . . .
The site I have been told is two beaches west of Big Bay Point.
ROASTBEEF – 3 Jan 2009
For years the story of the Lancaster plane wreck under Lake Simcoe
has been told and I never heard of it actually being found.
SIMCOEDIVER – 20 Feb 2009
As for the Lancaster plane, I too have heard the rumours
that it is supposed to be somewhere along the north shore of Kempenfelt Bay
near Oro, but I don’t think it exists.
MIKERAULT – 27 Feb 2009
From another website about a search for a sunken rescue boat.
They did come across an old Lancaster bomber
that crashed many years ago that some people have been searching for years for!
Must be in the Bermuda Triangle of Lake Simcoe!
SIMCOEDIVER – 1 Mar 2009
So then it does exist! Anyone have the co-ordinates for it?
ROASTBEEF – 1 Mar 2009
No! It does not exist. I’ve been diving the lake for over 30 years
and have never come across a Lancaster, nor has anyone else.
This story has been around for years.
There has never been a picture shown to prove anyone’s find. . . .
Even aviation history documents record no incident of a Lancaster crashing into Lake Simcoe.
CAMSHAW – 8 Jun 2009
The Lancaster I was told crashed on the beach
and took out some trees and then was trucked away, but not in the lake itself.
RJKROB – 29 Sep 2010
If you can get the numbers from your buddy, I’d be happy to take a boatload out
to the Lake Simcoe Lancaster bomber site, assuming it truly does exist. (xi)
This evidence suggests that even recreational divers who frequent the lake are of differing opinions regarding the possibility of a Lancaster bomber being somewhere beneath Simcoe’s waters.
The statement made by Roastbeef on 1 March 2009, however, does raise an interesting question. If the Lancaster wreck is real, and divers have dived on that site, as they claim, why has not one of them ever produced a photograph of the wreck as evidence of that find?
And why, as RJKRob and others insist, have the GPS coordinates for the wreck site never been made public, if it is indeed down there on the muddy bottom of the lake?
Could it be because the wreck simply does not exist? Perhaps the site those divers who claim to have dived upon it did encounter was the resting place of some other airplane rather than the subject of this particular tale?
Of interesting note is the statement made by board member Camshaw, who insists that a Lancaster crashed somewhere on the shoreline of the lake, rather than in the water itself, and was quickly recovered and trucked away from the site. Unfortunately, no evidence exists to substantiate that claim.
AGAINST ALL ODDS
Despite this conjecture, the evidence (or lack of it) that counters any claim of a Lancaster going down in Lake Simcoe appears to be overwhelming, both in its statement and in its silence.
But that still does not make it an impossibility.
MWO Marion of 16 Wing at Base Borden insists: "These bombers were not stationed or operating out of Camp Borden, although I understand the odd one might have come through the area once in a while." (xii)
All of this leads to the simple question of where and when did the tale of the phantom Lancaster begin? It is a tale that has had people talking for a good many years, despite having no appreciable basis in truth.
It is a story that, until the discovery of a mysterious bombsight in the waters off Eight Mile Point, might have been nothing more than a campfire fable.
Yet suddenly there is a fragment of possibility that it could somehow be true, that there might be a grain of fact hidden beneath the tapestry of that tale after all.
Perhaps we will never know the real origins of that story. Perhaps it is simply a yarn that was told once, then again, then once more, until it became something akin to folk-truth.
So while the probability of Brayden Parker’s bombsight compass being a part of a Lancaster bomber long lost to the waters of Lake Simcoe appears to reside somewhere near the very edges of reality, the possibility that the old stories could be true remains intriguing enough to cast a fog of uncertainty over those tales.
And that is how urban legends are begun.
Barrie, Ontario --- 2017
iv) Bowe, Barrie Examiner, 10 Nov 2011, op cit.
vi) Bowe, op cit.
viii) Bowe, op cit.
ix) Bowe, op cit.
x) Bowe, op cit.
xii) Bowe, op cit.