The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.
COCHRANE, Ont. — Sandra Cattarello, 71, is resting against a fallen tree perhaps sheared by the single-engine floatplane — now scattered before her eyes — which carried her cousin 60 years ago.
It is a well-deserved rest. She just completed a challenging two-hour trek through more than a kilometre of deep muskeg and thick spruce forest in cold wind and rain.
Cattarello came to the middle of remote bush 80 km north of Cochrane on a once-in-a-lifetime excursion with 15 others. She has just finished leading the group in prayer, honouring the two men who died here in 1951.
The first family member to ever visit the crash site, tears roll down her cheek as she speaks of the pain her family endured with the tragic loss of her cousin, Bill Barilko.
“It’s very sentimental and I’m glad I came,” Cattarello says, her voice quivering. “It’s very sad. I was 11 years old when this happened and we often wonder how his hockey career would have gone.
“For the family, it was quite amazing when they did finally make the discovery of the plane. For his mother, it was very good, because we were able to bring closure to it. Today is very significant and yet, it’s sad.”
As an 11-year-old in September 1951, Cattarello gathered each day with family and friends at Porcupine Lake, waiting for the 24-year-old Barilko to return home from a fishing trip near the James Bay coast with Timmins dentist Henry Hudson.
Barilko, at the height of his fame after his overtime goal won the Stanley Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs four months earlier, was due to return on a stormy Sunday evening, Aug. 26, 1951.
But the yellow, single-engine Fairchild piloted by Hudson never arrived. Barilko and Hudson simply vanished.
Their disappearance sparked the largest aviation search in Canadian history, involving 38 Royal Canadian Air Force planes and 270 personnel, extending into October 1951.
“We’d go down to the lake on our bicycles to meet the planes coming in,” says Cattarello, whose father, Carlo, was one of Barilko’s first hockey coaches. “At the time, we really thought maybe they stopped at a lake somewhere and they would be found.”
The plane’s wreckage wasn’t discovered until June 7, 1962 — six weeks after the Leafs won their next Stanley Cup — bringing an end to a mystery that had gripped all of Canada.
The skeletal remains of Barilko and Hudson, still strapped into the seats, were recovered and laid to rest, providing some closure for heartbroken family and friends.
But the plane’s wreckage remained untouched in the remote forest for 60 years, even though there were requests from aviation museums.
Until Oct. 16, 2011.
Shortly before 10 p.m., in another solemn ceremony, the Barilko/Hudson plane arrived home to Porcupine Lake.
One of few remaining family members from Barilko’s generation, Cattarello was a central figure among the group of 16 who made the journey to the crash site. (Barilko’s sister, Anne Klisanich of Toronto, now 81, was not able to come.)
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