The fate of a derelict Second World War bomber once nicknamed "The Flying Prostitute" is up in the air since two Calgary brothers fished part of it out of a remote Yukon lake.
The brothers want to complete the salvage and see the B-26 Marauder restored and placed in a museum. But the territorial government, suspecting a profit motive, has grounded their plans and is charging the pair with violating the territory's heritage legislation.
"Our past is not to be peddled," Jeff Hunston of the Heritage Resources Department said Friday. "We want our heritage in the Yukon."
The B-26 was a high-speed, medium-weight bomber developed by the United States and saw action in several theatres of the war. Some were used during the D-Day invasion, the 65th anniversary of which is being marked this weekend.
The plane's nickname was derived from its short wingspan, which appeared to give it no visible means of support.
Many Marauders were part of a lend-lease program that helped arm Russia against the Nazi invasion. In a massive airlift called the Northwest Staging Route, about 7,000 warplanes were flown from Great Falls, Mont., to Fairbanks, Alaska, en route to Siberia. There were stops in Canada to refuel.
On Jan. 16, 1942, six of them left Great Falls. Three got lost in Yukon airspace and crashed after running out of fuel, said Bob Cameron, a Yukon aviation buff in Whitehorse. The fourth crash-landed on the ice of Watson Lake and another crashed on takeoff as it set out again. Only one made it to Fairbanks.
"That was an unlucky group of airplanes," Cameron said.
Enter history buffs Brian and John Jasman, who found one of the planes last year with a sonar device. They had been combing through declassified military records and accident reports for 20 years.
This spring, the brothers floated the nose cone of the plane to the surface and hauled it ashore.
"It was kind of amazing," said Brian Jasman from his campsite beside Watson Lake, just north of the British Columbia-Yukon boundary.
"It should be in a museum where everybody could see it. Sitting in 70 feet of water, it's just going to rot to nothing."
The Jasmans were starting their search for the rest of the plane when the territorial government stepped in.
"The government of the Yukon owns that plane," said Hunston.
The Northwest Staging Route helped establish some of the territory's modern-day airports, he said. The many warplane wrecks it left behind are important artifacts of Yukon history — and potential tourist attractions.
Only a handful of Maurauders remain
Hunston suspects the Jasmans' motives.
"We're well aware of the antique warbird market out there. There's a lot of money to be made and even parts can be hot commodities."
Although thousands of Marauders were built, there are only a handful in museums and even fewer in flying condition.
Hunston fears the Watson Lake Marauder could wind up in an American private collection, much like a P-39 Cobra fighter that was allowed to leave the Yukon and ended up in a private museum in Oregon.
"We, too, want our warbird heritage preserved and exhibited in museums so that everybody benefits."
Hunston said the brothers have been served notice to appear in court on charges under the territory's heritage legislation. They could face a fine of up to $50,000.
But the Jasmans claim finders, keepers. Brian says the U.S. air force has relinquished any claim on the wreck. He also points out that the plane's location underwater places it under federal, not territorial, legislation.
"We're going to stick it out and let the lawyer deal with it and see what happens. Legally, they can't take it."
For now, the Marauder sits atop a trailer alongside the Watson Lake airport where it attempted to land 67 years ago.
There are dozens of relics like it along the old flight route. Just this week, two unexploded 227-kilogram bombs were found near the airport.
The Marauder isn't the only wreck in Watson Lake. Cameron said an old Lancaster bomber is visible from the surface.
The town's airport was a maintenance depot during the war and used for testing in the years afterward.
"There have been quite a few accidents in Watson Lake," Cameron said.