Doug Moe: Lake discovery is likely Truax jetTHERE HAS been a stunning development in the half-century-old mystery of what happened to a Truax Air Force Base F-89 Scorpion jet airplane that disappeared over Lake Superior on Nov. 23, 1953.
By Doug Moe
The Capital Times
By Doug Moe
The Capital Times
The plane and its Madison-based crew - pilot Felix Moncla and radar observer Robert Wilson - were never found. The F-89 had been dispatched to track a large unidentified flying object that radar had spotted near the U.S.-Canadian border, and the plane's disappearance has been fodder for extraterrestrial theorists ever since.
It now appears the missing plane has been located.
Earlier this month, divers and engineers from the Great Lakes Dive Co. posted on their Web site sonar photographs of what the group calls "the legendary missing F-89 Scorpion."
Gord Heath, a Canadian UFO investigator who has devoted considerable time to researching the F-89 disappearance - including several visits to Madison, most recently this past July - called the new find "a huge development" when we spoke Monday.
At the time of its disappearance in 1953, the F-89 was based not in Madison but rather at the Kinross Air Force Base in Michigan. A Capital Times story at the time explained that the plane and its crew "were part of a Truax Field contingent stationed temporarily at Kinross Air Base to substitute for Kinross personnel engaged in gunnery maneuvers at Yuma, Ariz."
In an incredible and tragic coincidence, the F-89 Scorpion temporarily stationed at Kinross was only one of two Truax F-89s to encounter serious difficulty on Nov. 23, 1953.
Shortly after noon that day, another F-89 Scorpion, this one at Truax with Lt. John Schmidt and Capt. Glenn Collins aboard, took off to test the afterburners of newly installed engines. While the test seemingly went fine, when the plane headed back toward Truax, witnesses below reported hearing an explosion, and then the jet crashed into a marsh in the Arboretum, killing both Schmidt and Collins.
It was less than six hours later that radar operators at Kinross, on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, spotted the UFO in restricted air space over the Soo Locks.
Moncla and Wilson went up in an F-89 Scorpion to track the unidentified craft. Back at Kinross, radar tracked their plane closing in on the UFO over Lake Superior. Moncla's last words from the cockpit were, "I'm going in for another look."
The Capital Times reported what happened next: "The Truax jet was followed on the radar screen at Kinross until its image merged with that of the plane it was checking - then it was lost."
That odd radar image - of the mystery craft seeming to swallow the Truax jet, then both disappearing from the screen - has fueled the extraterrestrial theories. U.S. officials claimed the rogue blip on the screen was an off-course Canadian airliner, but Canadian authorities have denied that any of their planes were in the area.
In his 1955 book, "The Flying Saucer Conspiracy," Donald Keyhoe wrote: "The mystery craft and the F-89 came together far off-shore, about 100 miles from Sault Sainte Marie. ... As quickly as possible, search planes with flares were roaring over Lake Superior. After a fruitless night search, boats joined the hunt as American and Canadian flyers crisscrossed a hundred-mile area. But no trace was ever found of the missing men, the F-89 - or the unknown machine."
But then, in October 1968, the Sault Daily Star newspaper carried a story headlined, "Do aircraft parts belong to missing F-89?" Two prospectors had found the parts, including a tail section, on the eastern shore of Lake Superior. The paper quoted Air Force sources saying the parts belonged to "a high performance military jet aircraft."
Years later, when Gord Heath, the UFO investigator I spoke with Monday, tried to get records from the Canadian government of the jet parts found in 1968, he was told no records existed.
Heath has spent much of the past five years trying to learn the fate of the missing Truax F-89. He has a Web site - www.ufobc.ca/kinross - devoted to it. He has made research trips to Madison and has a section on the city on his site. A documentary film crew from Canadian television accompanied Heath on his last trip here in July.
Now, suddenly, the Great Lakes Dive Co. find has considerably upped the ante on this 53-year-old mystery. You can learn more about the company, and view the sonar photos of the F-89, on its Web site, www.greatlakesdive.com.
The Web site explains that the group formed in 2001 out of "a yearning to explain some of the enduring mysteries of the Great Lakes." Late in 2005, members were searching for two sunken French minesweepers when circumstances led them to the area over which the F-89 had disappeared. Five days into their sonar search, the site notes, "the computer returned some amazing images." It is, they seem certain, the Truax F-89.
They next plan to take underwater video of the plane, which seems in remarkably good condition in perhaps 500 feet of water. Heath, who has been in contact with the Great Lakes Dive Co., says its condition - part of the tail is missing - matches up with the parts that were purportedly found in 1968.
Heath does not believe that the discovery means there wasn't an extraterrestrial ship involved in the 1953 disappearance. What if they were after the crew and not the plane? The sonar photos indicate the cockpit canopy of the F-89 is still intact. In time we should learn if the bodies of Felix Moncla and Robert Wilson are inside. If they aren't, it won't mean aliens got them - they might have bailed out - but if they are, the extraterrestrial theory might be put to rest. Some dead men can tell tales.
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See Also: Diver's Find 53 Year-Old Plane and Maybe The UFO It Collided With!