The Search for the Plane


Back in 1987, our first challenge was to find the exact location of the crash site. The best description we had, was that it was found 50 miles inland in Western Newfoundland. This description encompassed a vast amount of territory. Our first lead came from a diligent Ottawa researcher. They were reviewing the records of Number 10 Bomber Squadron. This was the unit that

found the plane. While reading through the Unit's daily logs, he discovered five aerial photographs of Smith's plane. These were the first images of the aircraft since it went missing in 1939. We were quite excited about this find. Oddly enough there was no mention of the crash location. With this, the search in Ottawa ended.

From the Canadian logs, we knew they had contacted the US 21st Reconnaissance Squadron of Gander. We then focused our attention on securing documents from the American Air Force. We found records for this unit at the Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Their files also did not reveal the plane's location. They were, however able to provide us with a partial transcript of Tommy's note, which he left in the plane. This was perhaps our most important clue. From this transcript, we found the plane crashed at 10:40 EST. This was significant,since we knew he took off at 3:47 EST and, with a few assumptions regarding airspeed and wind conditions, we could draw an "outer most limit line". Our new search area was reduced to the southwestern tip of the province. Still a very large area.

We then found our next clue. We re-visited the 5 aerial photographs that were attached to the RCAF logs. We noticed one of the photographs had a clear view of the horizon. Upon closer examination, we found a darkened land area near the horizon. We
thought it resembled a meandering river. It was impossible to judge how far the river was away, since this area had no trees or other objects convey a depth of perception. We went back to the other aerial photographs and made assumptions regarding camera focal lengths. We were able to calculate the Digby aircraft took the pictures at an altitude of approximately 400 ft.

We then digitized the path of the river. With the help of a bit of trigonometry and a computer, we converted the oblique photograph to what the river might look like on the map. From the daily logs were could determine the date and time they were taken. By closely examining the horizon picture, we could see shadows from boulders in the foreground. Now we knew the camera was facing true south when the picture was taken.After searching maps of southwestern Newfoundland, we found a match to our
digitally created river. It was called Wooden Tilt Brook, about 20 miles north of Burgeo.

The next stage was tedious, since it involved searching aerial photographs in the proximity of where the horizon picture was taken. We were looking for a pond about 30 ft by 2 ft wide which appears in one of the RCAF pictures. After many hours with a jeweler's loop we found the pond, and knew the plane came to rest only 30 feet away from that pond. The search for the plane was over.


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