Comox Valley diver first to see crashed WWII bomber in 79 years


It was a day 79 years in the making as a team of divers headed out onto Gander Lake, near Gander, Newfoundland on Monday in hopes of finding a piece of lost Canadian history.

But it would not be easy.

“It’s very intimidating, you can’t see down more than three or four feet, it was like Coca-Cola,” said diver and cinematographer Maxwel Hohn.

Hohn and an entire team of divers and researchers were looking for a WWII B-24 Liberator bomber that had crashed into Gander Lake shortly after taking off from the Gander Air Force Base on the night of Sept. 4, 1943.

“What they think happened was an engine failure,” Hohn said. “The plane just got sent into a barrel roll so shortly after take off from Gander airport unfortunately it crashed into the lake.”

Hohn is an accomplished diver and cinematographer based in the Comox Valley.

He teamed up with Newfoundland researcher Tony Merkle who had found signs of the bomber using side-scan sonar in July. He’d been searching for the bomber for the last decade.

On Monday, Sept. 5, Hohn was chosen to make the first dive down, about 45 metres to where they hoped to find the plane.

“First thing we saw was the wing,” he told CHEK News. “So we came across the wingtip and then we saw one of the big landing tires and these tires are massive on these planes. The tire was still inflated which was quite interesting to see.”

Numerous parts of the plane were found, completely recognizable after all these years, but the plane was upside down and crumpled from the impact.

The bomber is also a grave site. Four people died in the crash, but only one body was recovered after crash before the plane slipped deeper into the lake, beyond the reach of divers at the time.

An exerpt from Hohn’s account of the dive reads: “At the time of the accident, military hard hat divers found the aircraft resting on a ledge in Gander Lake and attempted to attach cables to the fuselage. While recovering the body of Squadron Leader John G. MacKenzie, the aircraft slipped off the ledge and sunk to a depth beyond the divers’ range. Due to poor visibility, extreme depth and cold water, the military abandoned recovery and salvage efforts after twelve days.”

“On September 5, 2022, on the 79th anniversary of the crash, a team with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society completed six technical dives to photograph and survey the wreck site on a deep ledge between 37 and 48 meters. With water temperature of 5°C and visibility of less than one meter, the dark tea-color water presented challenging conditions. The aircraft is badly damaged and upside down on a precarious ledge. If the plane loses its perch, it may descend over 250 meters to the lake’s bottom,” Hohn wrote.

After being lost or forgotten for many years, Hohn was the first to see the plane as it came into focus through the depths during that Monday dive.

“You know when you get down there, there’s a mix of feelings,” he said. “It’s very exciting to come across a wreck but it’s also quite sad because four people lost their lives during this event.”

Hohn says the site was documented but not disturbed and has now been turned over to Canadian authorities.

**EDIT: A previous version of this story reported that 3 bodies had been recovered from the plane in 1943. In fact, only one body was recovered, three are believed to still be in the plane.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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