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New search launched for plane missing since 1971 - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

New search launched for plane missing since 1971

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SHELBURNE, Vt. - In 1971 a plane flying from Burlington to Providence during a snowstorm went missing over Lake Champlain. It's still missing to this day, along with the five people who were on board.

"We're here to finish the search," said Kristina Coffey, the daughter of pilot George Nikita.

"It's haunted me my whole life to the point where you live with fantasies. Maybe he's in Brazil having cocktails every day. You don't know how to rest with the fact that he perished in a frozen lake," said Kate Stensland, Nikita's niece.

Nikita's family members are in Vermont and have not lost hope of finding him. Vermont State Police, New York State Police and volunteers make up the search party heading out on Lake Champlain to pick up where the search left off 40 years ago.

"With the technology advances that we've seen-- both in the public safety diving realm and also the civilian realm-- it's a great time to come together to see if we can solve this," Vt. State Police Lt. James Whitcomb said.

The current search will cover nearly 3 miles of Lake Champlain.

According to the search party, the plane was last seen flying over Juniper Island. The incident happened in the winter of 1971 and the lake had frozen over, making the search for the plane nearly impossible.

"We searched 14 square miles of the bottom of the lake at that time. And we did have some debris that did appear along the shoreline down here. We were able to confirm that it was positively parts from that airplane," said Walt Houghton, a volunteer searcher.

Along with human volunteers, underwater robotics joined the team looking for the missing jet.

"We have these what are called AUVs or underwater operated vehicles. They're basically torpedoes we'll be using in the water to sonar. They're very accurate, very quick," said Raymond Siler, the search coordinator.

Nikita's family members say they're grateful for the search effort and finally feel some closure after all of these years.

"I could go home today because I have just been overwhelmed by this A-team, this elite team that has been put together, to put the search together," Coffey said.

The search for the missing jet will continue Saturday and Sunday to see if anything from the plane can be recovered.

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