Press-Republican

Columns

July 27, 2012

The Crimson Route: Recovery and reminiscence

The Crimson Route probably doesn’t mean much to many people these days.

Yet, for a time early in World War II, the plan to build a network of airfields in eastern North America was seen as a primary line of defense of the continent against a Nazi juggernaut threatening to topple Great Britain.

The project is likely still in the living memory of the families of five American servicemen who died in the icy waters off Longue Pointe de Mingan on the St. Lawrence River on Nov. 2, 1942.

On that windy evening, a U.S. Navy Catalina flying boat with nine crew aboard hit some heavy waves trying to take off. Water flooded into the damaged cockpit, and the plane sank after about 30 minutes.

People in the village watching from shore rushed to the rescue and saved four crewmen who had been clinging to the sinking Catalina. The five others were trapped in the plane and taken down to the bottom of the river.

And there the downed airplane and its doomed crew stayed lost — except to local legend —until three years ago when an archaeological team from the federal parks service doing a survey in the area came across the wreckage and confirmed its identity.

This summer, an operation is under way to recover the five bodies and whatever personal effects may be still intact. It’s a mission of the Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command, based in Hawaii. It is also, apparently, only the second such operation in Canada. The first, started in 2008, was to recover bodies of three U.S. servicemen who were lost in a Sikorsky flying boat crash off Botwood Harbour, Newfoundland, in October 1942.

The identity of one of the five Longue Pointe victims is known publicly. According to a report in his hometown paper, the captain of the Catalina was Jack Zimmerman of Freemont, Ohio, who, prior to the war, was a commercial pilot who earned some fame as the first to land a scheduled flight at the new LaGuardia Airport in New York City.

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