New Brunswick

'Total closure': Pilot's son gets answers 62 years after father's fatal plane crash

For 62 years, Mark Behnke has wondered where his father's plane crashed in northern New Brunswick. The mystery has been solved.

'I think about my dad every day,' says son of pilot whose plane crashed in 1957

This is a Boeing-Stearman biplane, similar to the plane Elwyn Behnke flew in the 1950s. (Submitted by Christopher Adam)

For 62 years, Mark Behnke has wondered where his father's plane crashed in northern New Brunswick.

Mark was seven when his father, Elwyn Behnke, died on June 20, 1957.

The plane Elwyn was piloting crashed in a forested area in southeastern Restigouche County, about 50 kilometres south of Campbellton.

Mark's father was part of a program in the 1950s that sprayed the pesticide DDT across New Brunswick to prevent the spread of spruce budworm.

Parts of a plane were discovered in a forested area between Saint-Quentin and Bathurst on Thursday. (Radio-Canada)

Elwyn's body was recovered from the crash site and brought back to Eagle Point, Ore., where his wife and six sons resided. The plane, however, was left in the forest because it would have taken too much effort and money to remove it.

Although Mark has been curious about the whereabouts of the plane since he was a child, he only began searching for information about the crash about two years ago, the 60th anniversary of the accident.

Now 69 and living in Texas, Mark had no idea where his father's plane crashed in northern New Brunswick or how to go about finding it.

Over the years, what was left of the plane became lost in the dense forest stretching from Saint-Quentin to Bathurst. 

There's no record of the plane being spotted — until about a week ago, when a forestry worker found part of the aircraft while cutting wood in the area.

The wreckage was marked with the same identification, N1054N, as the plane Mark's father flew so many years ago.

This photo of the Behnke family was taken in 1954. Elwyn Behnke is on the far right holding the shoulders of his son, Mark. (Submitted by Mark Behnke)

Mark didn't know the plane had been found until CBC News contacted him on Saturday. That news made his year, he said. 

"It's just total closure for all of us, because [we're] six boys and we grew up without a father," Mark said. 

'A great dad'

Recently Mark asked the Canadian government for a copy of his father's accident report. He was able to obtain it, but he said it took some effort.

The report said his father died because of a failure to maintain adequate flying speed. 

"The aircraft spun in off a left-hand turn from a low altitude," the report said.

An accident report for Elwyn Behnke summarizes how his plane crashed on June 20, 1957. (Submitted by Christopher Adam)

Elwyn had five sons at the time of his death. Mark's mom was pregnant with her sixth child when her husband died. Mark remembers hearing the news from his uncle Glenn.

"I remember being in the room when my mother was told," he said.

"Even at seven years old, I understood what that was about. I don't think some of the younger ones did," said Mark, who is the second oldest in the family. 

Dorothy Behnke raised six boys after her husband died in a plane crash. (Submitted by Elwyn Behnke)

At a time when most kids were playing outdoors, Mark remembers crying outside with his older brother.

Mark describes Elwyn as a loving and caring father and devout man who came from a family of nine children. 

"I think about my dad every day."

Elwyn was also a Second World War veteran who began fighting with the U.S. Navy in 1943. After the war, he was an appliance repairman until he took advantage of the U.S. government's GI Bill, an education program for military veterans, and learned how to fly. 

Mark Behnke, 69, resides in Texas with his wife. (Submitted by Mark Behnke)

Mark remembers flying with Elwyn in a Piper Cub plane, a lighter aircraft than the Boeing-Stearman biplane his father died in.

"I remember flying with my dad and laughing and he'd turn the plane upside down."

In the summer, Mark wants to visit his father's crash site and erect a small memorial in his honour. 

"I find it amazing that there's still that much left [of the plane] after all this time [and] that I might get the opportunity to see it myself."

 

About the Author

Sarah Morin

Reporter

Sarah Morin is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. Story tip? sarah.morin@cbc.ca

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