It was supposed to be a Christmas in the Rockies for a Saskatchewan family.
Chet and Betty Talbott and their son Sheldon left Indian Head in a Cessna 185 with experienced pilot Art Underwood at the helm on Dec. 23, 1978. They were headed out to 108 Mile House Ranch in British Columbia, just north of 100 Mile House. Their daughter Debbie was waiting for them there.
Bad weather forced them to land at the Red Deer airport the evening of Dec. 23, and they spent the night in the city. They then took off the next day headed for Kamloops, B.C., to be followed by a drive to the ranch and a family Christmas.
But they never made it. The plane and its occupants vanished.
For more than two weeks a search and rescue operation scoured parts of the West Country in hopes of finding the remains of a crash site. The search and rescue team based out of Edmonton, then CFB Namao, logged about 1,100 hours flight time during the search, but the operation came up empty.
Today, 35 years later, a Rimbey area resident at the time of the crash who now lives in Innisfail, believes he may know where the crash is and he wants to try to find it.
Just 12 years old at the time, David Reynolds said Betty and Sheldon Talbott survived the crash and he communicated with Betty for two days after through walkie-talkies.
Christmas has always been a difficult time for Reynolds, but for decades he never really knew why. But a couple of years ago, the memory of the crash, talking with Betty and the failure of finding the crash came back to haunt the now 47-year-old.
With the help of his partner, Kayla Hart, he said he has slowly remembered details of the incident.
Using walkie-talkies, Reynolds said he and his cousin heard a voice they didn’t expect on Christmas Eve. The voice identified herself as Betty Talbott.
“We called the police and they came. My mother talked to them and somebody sent her to listen for the black box beeping,” said Reynolds. “We did hear noise in the background.”
The walkie-talkies they used came courtesy of Reynolds’ uncle as a Christmas present. They were discarded airline communication devices that were not being used.
Reynolds’ cousin, Tracey Kerklaan of Red Deer, remembered that they were out playing with the walkie-talkies that day.
“All of a sudden a distress thing came across our walkie-talkies,” said Kerklaan. “It was a woman freaking out saying that their plane had crashed, people were hurt and presumed dead and she needed help.
“At first we thought this was weird, we were 12, and we kept communicating for a little bit and then we went and got (Reynolds’) mom, my Aunt Margaret, and told her.”
Kerklaan said her aunt called the RCMP. She remembers the day as a clear, nice day for the middle of an Alberta winter.
Reynolds said Betty told him that Sheldon was alive the first day they communicated, but he didn’t make it through that night.
The next day, back on the walkie-talkies, they heard Betty again. She was angry that no one had showed up to save her.
But after that, nothing else was ever heard again from Betty.
“Probably one of the worst parts of her dying was her thinking we were screwing her over,” said Reynolds. “It’s a hard thought to imagine.”
During the search, Canadian Forces Major Vic Keating said it would have been over in hours if the plane’s emergency locator transmitter had been operating.
“That night the search was still on the news, and that was it,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds said the walkie-talkies were taken from the family as part of the police investigation.
The search for the wreckage continued until Jan. 9, 1979. Even psychics offered their help, but after 17 days the search was called off without finding the crash site.
This past winter, as a form of therapy, Reynolds began using maps and researching where the signal he picked up 35 years ago may have come from.
“There are a couple of chunks of bush that just scream,” said Reynolds, in reference to places that he believes could hide the place wreckage. “It’s been 35 years, so that would have had to have been thick enough bush that they would have crashed into and be hidden well enough. Now, 35 years later, they haven’t been found so that tells me it’s either unhuntable, private property or old bush land that nobody rides into.”
The focus of his search is two sections of bush, one just off of Hwy 53 near Hwy 761 northwest of Rimbey, and another patch of bush further south close to Caroline. But that patch near Caroline was part of the search in 1978-79.
“In reality it doesn’t look that daunting,” said Reynolds.
“We’d be looking for old damage, tree break-offs and we’re only talking about a few square miles of bush.”
Earlier in May he took a drive to his old homestead, saying access by roads to the area has improved significantly. Two subsequent trips to scout the area he said are promising and he hopes to go for a more thorough look soon.
Information obtained through an Access to Information Request through Library and Archives Canada found a hunting party near the Barriere RCMP detachment in B.C., north of Kamloops, had heard a disturbance that sounded like “tin-rattling” on Nov. 9 or 10, 1979. A 20-acre region was investigated and the search came up negative with no cause for the sound determined.
Another Access to Information Request submitted to the RCMP said the records had likely been destroyed based on a schedule established by the Librarian and Archivist of Canada, who now holds the file. A follow up information request has been submitted to Library and Archives Canada.