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This N.W.T. man was on a survey looking for birds. Instead he found the wreckage of a plane

Earl Evans was out on a whooping crane survey in Wood Buffalo National Park with Parks Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service when he saw something he’d never seen before. 

Evans, who lives in Fort Smith, N.W.T., said he’s done the same survey flight for years. 

“I told the pilot, ‘there’s something on the ground over there that shouldn’t be there,'” he said.

“The sun hit something off to the north, so I kept my eye on it. Just as we were going by, I saw it was something that wasn’t normal.”

Evans told the pilot to turn the helicopter around to go check it out. 

As they got closer, Evans realized what he was seeing. 

“It appeared to be a wing. A wing off an aircraft,” Evans recalled. 

“I’ve been in Fort Smith all my life and I’ve never heard of a plane going down in that area.”

Evans said he thinks that area is normally underwater, which is why he and others on the flight hadn’t spotted the downed aircraft before. The N.W.T. is experiencing historically low water levels across the territory.

“It looked like it was submerged in a bit of water,” he said. “It looked kind of eerie sitting in that swamp over here like that.”

He said he had also flown the exact same route a few months ago. 

“I flew over that several times,” he said. “It would have been visible,” he said. 

An image of land taken from satellite imagery
Satellite imagery taken on May 8, 2024 by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 satellite shows the area south of Little Buffalo River where Evan said he spotted the plane. (Sentinel-2/European Space Agency)

Evans said he only got a “fleeting” glimpse of the plane. The survey team only did one loop down to where the plane was spotted so they wouldn’t run out of fuel. 

No one on the flight managed to take a photo. 

“No one even thought of taking a friggin’ picture,” Evans said. 

A fatal crash 

When Evans got back to Fort Smith, he talked to Parks Canada who got ahold of NAV Canada. Both told Evans they were looking into it. 

A spokesperson for Parks Canada referred CBC to the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada and the RCMP. 

In a statement, the TSB said the plane Evans spotted dates back to a collision from 1971, when two water bombers collided mid-air while fighting a forest fire at Little Buffalo River and answering a distress call from a downed helicopter. 

Both planes spiralled into the ground, killing four people. 

It was investigated by Transport Canada at the time. 

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