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Location of NCAR plane still unknown

REDRIDGE — It’s a mystery that has baffled authorities for more than a half century.

But the 1968 case of a missing National Center for Atmospheric Research plane remains no closer to being solved than it was that long-ago sunny October day.

A crew of three NCAR researchers made radio contact with the Houghton County Airport at 12:30 p.m. and were never seen or heard from again.

Sheriff Brian McLean, one of three sheriffs involved in the case since then, said there have been few leads over the years about the aircraft.

“We’ll get a report every now and then about a part showing up,” McLean said recently. “But we haven’t been able to confirm … that it is … from that plane.”

NCAR pilots Robert Carew and Gordon Jones were on board the Beechcraft plane with Velayudh Krisnah, an Indian national graduate student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The team was conducting water radiation temperatures from Lake Superior that day.

The late Lester Zinser, also a NCAR pilot, said the flight was a routine one.

“We had made that flight many times over the years,” Zinser said in a 1988 interview. “And Gordon (Jones) and Bob (Carew) were experienced pilots.”

Shortly after the crew made their call to the county airport, a bright flash was seen in the Redridge area.

That led many to believe the plane might have scraped the 150-foot smokestack located in the town.

The late John Wiitanen, then the sheriff, said the smokestack was checked for any damage.

“We didn’t find anything on the stack that indicated it had been struck,” Wiiitanen commented. “The plane might have hit something else, because from what we were told, there had been a flash.”

Children in the Redridge area said they noticed men in uniforms searching the area the following day. They were told by the men to “keep moving and not to look back.”

Yet another later report came when two teenage girls, who had reportedly “skipped” school that day, said they saw an airplane crash into the water near the Hancock breakwater.

“They didn’t come forward until much later,” Wiitanen said. “Apparently, they were nervous because they were bumming (from school).”

Any attempts to search for the missing plane were pretty well dashed when winter arrived early less than week later.

“The NCAR wanted to get there right away,” Zinser said. “But the weather up there turned really bad.”

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