TALES AND LEGENDS OF THE MOUNTAIN KINGDOM: Plane crash and Plewman ghost cat
I came across a little snippet of local Rossland legend recently that bears being told. I’ve been writing about some of the history surrounding our Seven Summits recently and have already told the stories of the Met Men of Old Glory and the man after whom Mount Plewman is named. In this article, we head off once more to Mount Plewman, only to the horseshoe-shaped basin at its foot–appropriately called the Plewman Basin.
The basin is now a well-known backcountry ski spot, renowned for its pristine surroundings and powdery conditions, but did you also know that it was also the site of a devastating plane crash back in the 1940s? Well, it was, and from that plane crash sprang a local legend about–and I am not kidding–a giant house cat.
But first some background. The plane was a B-25 Mitchell bomber, used quite heavily by the Americans, Brits, Aussies, and others during WWII. The medium-altitude bomber was also equipped with a gun, and thousands of them were manufactured. When the war was over, many of them were refitted to fly reconnaissance missions during the early parts of the Cold War.
Canada bought 164 B-25 Mitchell bombers in the late 1940s for the Royal Canadian Air Force to use as training aircraft, light transport, and to fly special missions. Some of the planes remained bombers–this was the Cold War, after all.
It was on one of these special missions that a converted B-25 crashed in Plewman basin on October 18, 1947. The plane was heading north and carried nine people: seven military personnel and two civilians, a couple named Mr. and Mrs. F.M. Knight, who owned a hotel in Penticton. The weather was grim that day; it was the first snow of the season, the wind was howling, it was foggy, and visibility was very limited.
Local folk song-writer and amateur historian, Wayne Krewski, who has a site called Ridge Records, has a page devoted to this plane crash and even wrote a song about it, which I’ll get to in a moment, because it involves the giant cat. On this page, Krewski says, “The plane likely iced up and lost control because it lost a lot of elevation in a very short distance to end up on the floor of Plewman Basin.” The plane was conducting an aerial survey and heading to Penticton to drop of the Knights. But once the plane hit the floor of the basin, no one survived.
Though the peak of Old Glory was nearby and it was at the time manned by the Met Men, no one heard the plane go down because it was so windy. High atop Red Mountain, clearing the first ski run there, Ken Gresley-Jones and man called Jim Douglas, heard the plane pass so close over their heads that they hit the ground, but they saw nothing due to the fog. In fact, no one would see anything of this plane crash for five whole years, when Wilf Gibbard, the man who used pack horses to haul supplies up to the Met Men of Old Glory, randomly came upon the site after spotting something shiny in the bush while hunting for grouse.
No bodies were ever recovered, naturally.
Krewski’s song, which is partially based on fact and partially speculation, gives a few more details. The second verse in particular is very eerie, giving some more detail about the moments leading up to the crash.
Hugh Urquhart heard it in Squaw Basin, engines still roaring,
but he and Dave Keffer were the last.
They must have gone right by the Old Glory Met Station. B
art Dudley was there, but he never heard a thing.
Plewman Peak passed to their right, then they turned east
and crossed Record Ridge and went down in the trees.
No trace was found, though a man, name of Tjader,
hunting off to the east, said he heard it explode.
So where does the aforementioned cat come in? Well, the song continues further down with this little bit of legend-making and imaginative surmising:
Sometimes when the snow’s deep and the moon’s bright
on Plewman a great white cat appears like a ghost in the night.
Some say he’s a lynx, but he’s much too big for that;
some say he’s a cougar who’s lost his tail.
But maybe he’s the ghost of the souls of that plane wreck,
wandering the ridge and the trails for 50 years.
The Ghost Cat of Plewman Basin watches over that lonely place,
and for 50 years that plane and its souls have been left in peace.
And the times that I’ve seen him have made me hope
that I might find a final resting place
like the Plewman Basin Cat.
So, is there a ghost cat of Plewman Basin? Does it still watch over backcountry skiers as they go about their business in the basin? Who knows! Who knows what dwells in the woods of the Rossland Range? We have had sasquatch sightings after all, so, really, anything is possible, right?
What I do know is that the crash is a popular hiking destination, though it requires a bit of bushwhacking to find. And there isn’t much to see anymore, other than a metal cross erected as a memorial to the nine victims of the crash.
As for the cat, has anyone seen it more recently than Mr. Krewski? Please leave a comment if you have!