Saskatchewan

'We hope to finally bring Ray home': Remains recovered at 1959 plane crash site

Pilot Ray Gran's family hopes to finally lay him to rest with his late wife, Marcella.

Pilot Ray Gran's family hopes to lay him to rest with his late wife, Marcella

Pilot Ray Gran stands by the Cessna 180 with his brother Maurice Gran in a photo taken on Aug. 10, 1959, 10 days before the crash. (Submitted by Donald Kapusta)

A 60-year-old mystery was laid to rest in Northern Saskatchewan last week. RCMP were able to dive and recover remains from a Cessna 180 float plane that went down in 1959.

Ray Gran and Harold Thompson were trying to fly from Buffalo Narrows to La Loche on Aug. 20, 1959, but their plane went down in Peter Pond Lake. It was only recently found in July 2018 with sonar technology by Linda and Donald Kapusta — Gran's daughter and son-in-law.

"Finally we do have the results we were hoping for," said Donald Kapusta. "We hope to finally bring Ray home."

The RCMP initially attempted a dive in August 2018 but it was hampered by strong winds and high waves. The Mounties' Underwater Recovery Team decided to wait until the winter and use the ice as a platform.

On Jan. 31, 2019 they were successful and recovered remains of Ray Gran and Harold Thompson, as well as personal items including a pendant, a camera and a wallet. All remains and items are with the coroner until they can be released to the families.

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

When the Kapustas started looking into finding the plane, their goal was to recover the remains while Linda's mother Marcella was still around.

The plane was found in the evening but later that same night Marcella passed. Linda and Don didn't have the chance to tell her.

"Unfortunately the timing was not meant to be for that," Kapusta said.

Plane discovery leads to new-found family 

Martin Gran grew up listening to tales of his uncle Ray flying — and about the crash into Peter Pond Lake. Martin's father, Vernon, passed away when he was young but his other uncle Maurice — who was also a pilot and flew in he same region as Ray — continued telling him stories.

Martin didn't know Ray's wife Marcella was pregnant when the plane went down.

Martin and his wife had been talking about searching for the plane when they retire. Then his co-worker sent him an article on the Kapustas' discovery.

"When I first saw the lead picture I thought that that was my father, Ray looked so much like my dad that my stomach just dropped," Martin said. "But it turns out that was Raymond and Maurice."

After the initial publication, Martin was able to contact the Kapusta family.

From left: Donald Kapusta, Connor Gran, Martin Gran. The Gran family were able to stop by the Cairn remembrance plaque to late pilot Ray Gran in August 2018. (Submitted by Martin Gran)

"I feel now like I've known Don my whole life," Martin said.

Martin Gran and Don Kapusta met for the first time in person at the end of August when the two and Gran's son came out to watch the RCMP dive.

"When we started out we thought it's just Linda and I and if we don't do it nobody will," Kapusta said.

"We gained an extended family and it's important to us," Kapusta said. "Martin and Tammy stood shoulder to shoulder with us."

The RCMP successfully recovered the remains of two people from a plane crash site on the bottom of Peter Pond Lake last Thursday. (Facebook/Saskatchewan RCMP)

The Kapustas were unable to be in Buffalo Narrows this winter but Martin Gran was, and texted them updates. Gran said he tried his best to relay what was happening.

"I can't thank Don enough for all the effort that he and Linda went through to find the plane in the first place," Gran said. "It was a needle in a haystack after 60 years."

'Outpouring of support' from the community

"It's been a very emotional rollercoaster for us from right from the beginning," Kapusta said. 

"Linda and I are generally very private people, but the outpouring of support that has come our way, that's just been remarkable for us and we're so grateful for that," he said.

"When we go out to Buffalo Narrows, every one of the townspeople knew Uncle Maurice and had stories," Gran said. "The stories were just incredible."

"The thoughts of Maurice flying over that area for years and years and not knowing where his brother was is heart-wrenching," Gran said. "That really was brought home by being out there."

A Cessna 180 float plane over La Ronge, Sask., circa. 1957. This plane is the same make and model as the plane that crashed in 1959. (Saskatchewan Archives)

Gran and Kapusta said it was a large community effort to bring the remains home. They said the RCMP, the conservation officers, inspector and coroner handled the search with care.

"To be able to understand what was behind all this for us and how important it is to all of us," Kapusta said, "that was truly amazing."

Kapusta said the entire adventure started because his friend Don Miller suggested sonar technology, and sonar expert Garry Kozak located it.

As well, bush pilot Doug Chisholm had the same Cessna 180 model.

"I had known about the story for a long time, we always wondered," Chisholm said. He's been a bush pilot in Northern Saskatchewan for over 40 years and knew Maurice Gran.

From left: Martin Gran, Doug Chisholm, Donald Kapusta. Chisholm flies the same model Cessna 180 as the one Ray Gran and Harold Thompson were in when they crashed. Martin Gran said it was an emotional experience to see the Cessna 180 fly overhead. (Submitted by Martin Gran)
 Chisholm flew his Cessna 180 into Buffalo Narrows so the RCMP dive team could have a reference for what the plane would look like, and texted images to help during the dive this winter.

"There was a lot of mystery and to be able to draw it to conclusion and to bring home the remains to the families, it's important," Chisholm said. "I'm just really glad to be part of that endeavour."

The final hope is to lay the remains with their families. Martin Gran said he is grateful the Kapustas started this journey and he could help see it through.

"It's a story that I'll tell my kids' kids and I'll remember my whole life."

The RCMP drilled holes to use a sonar device to map the exact location of the plane in Peter Pond Lake. (Saskatchewan RCMP)

With files from Alex Soloducha

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