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International expedition in Alaska stops search of Soviet plane missing since 1937

September 23, 2013, 0:20 UTC+3
The N-209 plane was piloted by the famous Russian pilot Sigizmund Levanevsky
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ARKHANGELSK, September 23 (Itar-Tass) - An international expedition organized by the Russian Geographic Society has been compelled to stop a search for the site of crash of a Soviet plane that went missing in 1937 during a flight from the Soviet Union to the U.S. across the North Pole.

The N-209 plane was piloted by the famous Russian pilot Sigizmund Levanevsky.

The search that was done in the Beaufort Sea off the shores of Alaska had to be wrapped up because of the early arrival of winter weather, Itar-Tass was told Sunday by the initiator of the expedition, Yuri Salnikov, and its research supervisor, Andrei Podolsky.

“We hope to resume a full-fledged technical search next year,” they said. “The magnetometric information that has been obtained will be scrutinized and sent to us by Dr. David Stone of the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks.”

“We hope to get the data on the identified abnormalities in mid-October,” Podolsky said.

The leaders of the expedition said the Inuit hunters living in the area had once again reaffirmed the consistency of the version, which suggests that Levanevsky’s plane had crash-landed somewhere off the Alaskan coast. The hunters told the expedition members their fishery boat bumped into a submerged object on the sea floor in the summer of 2011.

According to the hunters, the object might be a fragment of an aircraft.

“We do hope the abnormalities that have been identified and the data received from the Inuit will coincide in terms of geographic locations and the area of the search will be narrowed to the size, which will enable us to use diving equipment in those spots in 2014,” Salnikov and Podolsky said.

The two men and one more Russian participant in the expedition, Dmity Khaustov, arrived in Alaska September 4. Participating on the American side were pilot Ronald Sherdown and Dr. David Stone of the Geophysics Institute at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

Long-distance help was also given by the American geophysics expert, Denis Tarstone, and the Canadian specialist on the search for artifacts in the Arctic area, Bill Tuma.

The expedition hoped to examine the water area of around 60 square kilometers near Jones Islands in the Beaufort Sea. It set up the basic camp near the town of Prudhoe Bay /the former Russian settlement of Prudnoye/ on the coast.

From there, it made daily flights for the aerial magnetometric research of the area. The expedition was due to continue twenty days.

August 12, 1937, the four-engine experimental plane DB-A with the onboard number N-209 and a six-strong crew with captain Sigizmund Levanevsky in command took off from Moscow and headed towards Fairbanks along a route crossing the North Pole. Radio communications with it were lost August 13 at 17:58 Moscow Standard Time /14:48 GMT/.

The last report from Levanevsky contained information on a failure of the rightmost engine, poor weather conditions, and the commencing icing of the plane. Any other more precise information of the plight of the plane and its crew does is not known to date.

A search operation that was launched immediately after the disappearance of the plane did not bring any results.

Numerous subsequent expeditions that have been held in Alaska, Yakutia, and in the offshore strip of the eastern sector of the Arctic were unhelpful in clearing out the situation, too.

Sigizmund Levanevsky /spelt in Polish as Zygmunt Lewoniewski/ was born into an ethnic Polish family in St Petersburg in 1902. He graduated from a naval aviation school in Sevastopol, Crimea, in 1925 and spent the next five years as a Red Army officer resigning in 1930.

His work in the Arctic areas began in 1933. In 1934, he took part in an unparalleled operation to rescue people from the sunken steamship Chelyuskin - an action for which was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

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