Bid to Solve 43-Year-Old Jet Mystery


The private jet carrying five people disappeared soon after departure from a Vermont airport on a snowy night 43 years ago, leaving no trace for searchers who believe it crashed into Lake Champlain.

Initial searches for the 10-seat Jet Commander turned up no wreckage and the lake froze over four days after the plane was lost on Jan. 27, 1971, shortly after it departed Burlington.

Now, authorities in New York and Vermont, spurred by the Malaysia Airlines disappearance in March, are mounting a fresh search and hope new technology will find the wreck.

Starting Friday, divers, high-resolution sonar, a submarine and the experience of experts volunteering their time will be brought to bear on the mystery of what happened to a plane that was recorded by radar at 5,000 feet one second and gone the next.

“I’m hopeful,” said New York State Police Capt. John Tibbitts. “They did everything they could at the time with the available technology.”

Some items from the plane washed up over the years, he said, but without the wreckage there was no way for investigators to determine what happened.

Tibbitts said pilot George Nikita and co-pilot Donald Myers each had thousands of hours experience flying Jet Commanders and on that night had departed for Providence, R.I., carrying three passengers.

Lake Champlain is 400 feet deep in parts and presents a daunting challenge for divers. “The goal is to locate and recover the remains to finally bring some closure to these families,” Tibbitts said.