New Search for Long Missing Plane in Lake Champlain

Published 07/18 2014 06:23PM

Updated 07/18 2014 06:35PM

SHELBURNE, Vt. - When Kristina Coffey was just three years old, she lost her father.

"I just always knew that my dad was Greek, was a wonderful cook, and loved me to the end," she said. That's all she knew after the plane her dad was piloting crashed into Lake Champlain during a snowstorm in January 1971.

"It was ever present. There wasn't a family dinner, there wasn't a family party that this wasn't discussed," the pilot’s niece, Barbara Nikitas said.

The plane, a Rockwell Jet Commander, had five people on board when it took off from Burlington. It was bound for Providence.

The plane virtually vanished without a trace, but there were some small pieces of the plane that washed up along the beach in Shelburne, Vermont in April 1971.

"Our grandmother used to go to bed at night saying my son is in the water. We have to find him.”

"Her baby," niece Kate Stensland added.

"My baby's in the water," Barbara Nikitas recalled her grandmother saying.

Kristina and her cousins, who arrived in Vermont for the first time ever this week from Tennessee and Los Angeles, continue to seek answers for themselves and the rest of the family.

"My philosophy is that you can't find peace until you find all the pieces,” Coffey said.

Thanks to the New York State Police and Forest Rangers, as well as Vermont State Police, the family is getting a helping hand. A large scale search for the plane's wreckage kicked off Friday, and will continue through the weekend.

"It's a miracle. It's a miracle," family members said.

Scuba teams, drone-like submersibles, and even a small submarine will be scouring the lake near Shelburne.

"We're just going to go out further. We're just going to go down and visually look for bigger debris that may be down there," Mark Trezza said of his submarine efforts.

New tools like that, combined with renewed interest after the missing Malaysian flight, sparked the new effort.

"We have the technology to revisit these old cases, and we're going to employ this technology when appropriate," Lt. James Whitcomb of the Vermont State Police said.

For Kristina and her family, even if nothing comes of the search, they'll be be happy.

"Their compassion, that they would come here to do this, is amazing,” Coffey said.

Police were unable to say how much the search effort will cost. They did say that the outside groups involved, like the men running the sub, are volunteering their services.

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