Plane lost in 1964 found in Canadian Arctic

Sunday, August 10, 2003

MINNEAPOLIS -- The June 1964 weather in the Canadian Arctic wasn't bad -- though at 56 degrees, still cooler than summers at the University of Missouri, where Albert Kunes was a graduate student.

"Sorry I couldn't write more," the 23-year-old Kunes wrote his brother, James, that summer, "but I will write more when I get into the bush. Love, Al."

A few days later, Kunes, fellow gold-hunter Doug Torp, 24, and bush pilot Chuck McAvoy flew into the Northwest Territories loaded with a month's supply of camp gear and disappeared.

For years, their families clung to the hope they would someday emerge with a good story to tell. Neither family held memorial services.

The mystery ended last week when a burned-out plane was discovered about 250 miles northeast of Yellowknife, and the men's remains were recovered.

Jack Everett, who ran the gold-seeking operation for Duluth-based Roberts Mining of Minnesota, tracked down both men's siblings to relay the news. He has been unable to locate Torp's wife, LeAnn -- who remarried after having her husband declared dead -- or daughter, Krisane, who was born after he died.

Bruce Torp, Doug Torp's brother, said his mother "was always hoping that he would walk out of the woods someday."

"He might have been adopted by the Indians, or who knows," Torp said Saturday from his home in Burnet, Texas. "But after five years or so, you figure that's too far-fetched and just assume he died."

Kunes will be buried near his parents in Phillips, Wis. His mother kept two mailboxes -- one in Prentice, Wis., where her son was high school valedictorian, and one in nearby Phillips, where they later moved.

"She just wouldn't change any address for fear that someone would write and they wouldn't be able to find them," said Lucille Kunes, widow of James Kunes, who died last year. "Every single day his mother would listen for the phone to ring."

Lucille Kunes found Albert's last letter after going through her husband's belongings.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Torp and Kunes studied geology together at the University of Missouri.

Torp's work on three-dimensional geology maps caught the attention of Everett's mining company, which paid his tuition at graduate school before flying him and Kunes to the Northwest Territories to look for gold.

"They were very good exploration geologists," Everett said. "They were students and they were still learning, but they were willing to do whatever was necessary."

Everett said gold was found in the area the two young men were searching, but gold prices were so low there was no money in mining it. The company's mineral claim expired.

Everett, now 82 and living in Colorado Springs, Colo., said the fabric-covered plane apparently burned on impact. It's still not clear why it crashed, but Everett said the plane may have been trying to avoid a storm.

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