Team behind recovery of plane from Peter Pond Lake honoured at Saskatchewan Legislature

The families and communities are back together to share stories and catch up at the Saskatchewan Legislature.

Ray Gran and Harold Thompson died in a crash in 1959. Gran's daughter helped find the plane 59 years later

From left: Dorrin Wallace, Brent Janvier, Allison Woods-Janvier, Doug Chisholm, Martin Gran, Linda Kapusta and Donald Kapusta. The families of Ray Gran and Harold Thompson were honoured at the Saskatchewan Legislature on May 6. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

A decade of effort to find a plane missing for 60 years was honoured in the Saskatchewan Legislature Monday.

Pilot Ray Gran and conservation officer Harold Thompson both died when their plane crashed into Peter Pond Lake, located near Buffalo Narrows in Saskatchewan, on Aug. 20, 1959. No one knew exactly where the plane was for decades.

Harold Thompson, a conservation officer, and pilot Ray Gran were the two people that died in a plane crash in 1959. (Submitted photos)

Linda Kapusta, Ray Gran's daughter, was born after the crash and never met her father. When she and her husband Donald Kapusta first started looking for information, they hoped only to locate the plane. 

"We always felt kind of isolated," Linda said. "It was just me and my mom hoping that someday, somehow we would find out what happened."

Last summer, sonar expert Garry Kozak helped the couple locate the wreckage. RCMP brought up human remains this past winter and — with the help of the surrounding communities and the Saskatchewan Aviation Museum — the entire plane was lifted from the lake in March 2019.

The Cessna 180 was transferred from the ice onto a trailer and driven by volunteers from Michel to the Saskatchewan Aviation Museum based in Saskatoon. The plane is on display in its current form before being restored. (Submitted by Donald Kapusta)

Linda said there was a lot of help from the surrounding communities of Michel Village, St. George, Buffalo Narrows and others.

"It's an indescribable experience,"  she said. "We had no idea the scope and how many people would be involved." 

At each point, the community rallied around them, Linda's husband Donald said.

"Everyone just stepped up and volunteered. It was amazing," Donald said. 

Long lost cousins and a new family

Martin Gran is Linda's first cousin, but the two hadn't met before last summer. Martin was young when the plane went down and didn't know Linda's mother was pregnant.

From left: Martin Gran, Linda Kapusta and Donald Kapusta. The three were honoured at the Saskatchewan Legislature on May 6. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

"This has brought us together in a way that I couldn't have imagined," he said. "The story was very important to me. From when I was little, my dad told me the story."

Gran thought he and his wife were alone searching for the plane. When he saw an article last summer, he realized he was on parallel paths with a cousin he didn't know existed.

"[Linda and Donald] did what I thought was impossible. They found the plane," he said.

The three got together last summer and have been close ever since. Gran came out to Northern Saskatchewan to help raise the plane this past March.

Martin Gran with the tail of the plane that crashed carrying his uncle in 1959. (Submitted by Martin Gran)

"It became this extended family immediately and anything that needed to get done just got done," Gran said.

"To see [the plane] come out of the water with its bright orange tail ... was very incredible, very emotional for me."

A team of people from Michel Village, Sask. supported the recovery and helped raise the airplane. (Submitted by Donald Kapusta)

The families of Ray Gran and Harold Thompson, the hamlet of Michel Village, the Saskatchewan Aviation Museum and pilot Doug Chisholm were honoured at the Saskatchewan Legislature Monday.

"I wish my mom was here still to see all this but we're here on her behalf," Linda said. "She would have been so honoured."

The pilot's ring, now close to his daughter's heart

A gold chain with a ring and locket hangs from Linda's neck. The locket was a gift from her husband, while the ring is from decades before. 

Linda Kapusta now carries the wedding ring of her late father Ray Gran close to her on a necklace. The ring was recovered on the last day of raising the plane. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

It belonged to her father, Ray Gran, and was found while bringing up the plane. They had given up hope of finding the ring 60 feet below water, until  it appeared balanced on the wing.

Now Linda holds it close.

"Unfortunately, my mother's wedding band went missing," Linda said. "I do not have my mother's wedding band that she wore her entire life but now I have my father's wedding ring."

Linda wants people to gain patience and resilience away from their story, she said.

"Always keep hope. Hoping for a good outcome," she said.

Ray Gran was flying that Cessna on Aug. 20, 1959. He and conservation officer Harold Thompson left Buffalo Narrows en route to La Loche, Sask.

The Cessna 180 is now on display at the Saskatchewan Aviation Museum in Saskatoon.

Gran said the story is going to continue for decades through his family. He's told his children about the crash, finding his lost cousin and raising the plane.

"They are the stewards of this story going forward," he said. "They get very emotional and very serious when we talk to them about that and it reminds me of when I was young. I think it'll be fantastic for generations."


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