Lake Champlain – January 21, 1971

Lake Champlain – January 21, 1971 

Vermont’s Enduring Aviation Mystery

     Just before 7:00 p.m. on January 21, 1971, a Rockwell 1121 Jet Commander (N400CP) with five people aboard, took off from Burlington International Airport bound for Providence, Rhode Island.  It was snowing that night, and roughly three to four minutes after take-off the plane abruptly vanished from radar and has never been found.  No distress call was received.  

     It is presumed that aircraft went down in Lake Champlain, a massive body of water 120 miles long and 12 miles wide separating the states of Vermont and New York.

     Over the next few days more snow covered ground, and the lake surface froze, causing the search for the airplane to be called off on February 4th. 

     In April of 1971, debris believed to be from the missing plane were discovered along the shore of Lake Champlain near Shelburne, Vermont.  These included at tire and rim, a window frame assembly, insulation from the forward cabin area, an oxygen tank, and parts of a radio.

     No human remains have ever been found.

     One rumor connected with the flight is that the plane carried a large amount of cash and negotiable bonds, but this has never been substantiated.

     Those aboard the plane included:

     Pilot: George Nikita

     Co-pilot: Donald E. Myers

     Robert Williams

     R. Kirby Windsor

     Frank Wilder

     While the disappearance has faded into history, there are those who continue to search. 

     In 2014 a hi-tec sonar search of 15 square miles of lake bottom near Shelburne was conducted.  Although a number of possible targets were identified, nothing conclusive was found, and further investigation will be necessary.  

     Why can’t the plane be located?     

      As large as the sonar search area was, Lake Champlain covers, according to one source,  435 square miles, while another puts the figure at 490 square miles.  And nobody knows for sure where the plane went into the water.  Therefore there are still hundreds of square miles to be checked.  

     It’s also possible the plane broke apart on impact, which would make it more difficult to locate, and after more than forty years, it could have settled in silt.

      In the meantime, the disappearance remains Vermont’s longest unsolved aviation mystery.    


     The Telegraph, “Lake Champlain Search For Lost Jet Abandoned”, February 6, 1971

     Burlington Free Press, “Search Resumes For Jet Missing Since 1971”, by Mike Donoghue, July 18, 2014.

     Providence Journal, “Lake Champlain Searched For Providence-Bound Plane That Crashed 43 years Ago.” July 21, 2014

     Burlington Free Press, “Strong Leads In Search For Missing Plane”, July 22, 2014

     Marine Technology News, “Modern Tech For A Cold Case”, March 12, 2015

     Aviation Safety Network, Flight Safety Foundation

     Lake Champlain Land Trust website,

     Wikipedia – Lake Champlain






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