A Vision So Noble
[Copyright Suomen Kuvalehti, 11 Dec 1998; translation by Jarmo Lindberg, as posted on his website Fighter Squadron 21, republished by permission. I've edited the text here and there. (The web page is no longer available.) -- Dan Ford]

The Last Brewster

By Risto Lindsted

Fighter pilot Lauri Pekuri dives into a lake in the Karelian Isthmus on the 25th of June 1942. The fight for the burning and sinking Brewster Buffalo isn't over. 56 years later it starts again.

In the spring of 1993 American-Finnish Vic Sargon visits his childhood friend at Kivihaka in Helsinki. He hears that a neighbor, Heimo Lampi, is a wartime fighter pilot. Sargon wants to visit Lampi, and during the discussion it soon becomes evident that Heimo Lampi has flown the American Brewster fighter during WWII.

In Heimo Lampi's living room, Vic Sargon tells that the American Turbines Ltd. CEO Marvin Kottman has been searching for Brewster remnants for years. His purpose is to transfer the aircraft to the US Navy Museum for restoration. There hasn't been a single Brewster left in the world intact and no remnants of downed Brewsters have been found.

Search permit from Russia

At Kivihaka they plan for co-operation where Heimo Lampi's daughter Marja and her husband Aleksandr Dmitriev are tasked to find possibilities for a search in Russia. Architect Dmitriev has worked in the Hotel Astoria project so he has close contacts to his home town St. Petersburg [Leningrad, during the Soviet era] from where he had moved to Helsinki ten years earlier.

Sargon forwards the news to Kottman. Kottman hires American Gary Villiard to assist him in the search in Russia. Villiard had participated in Kottman's earlier search for a Brewster. They had spent already over a million dollars in Malaysia.

Search permit issues have already been discussed in Moscow by Marvin Kottman's orders.

Aleksandr Dmitriev visits St. Petersburg several times to study the options. Previous nuclear physicist at the university and currently the general manager of the Petro-Avian company, Vladimir Prytkov, is recommended to him.

"It was a mistake to visit Moscow"

Marja Dmitriev meets Vladimir Prytkov at 7:45 p.m. on the 21st of May 1994 at the Aleksandr Nevsk subway station in St. Petersburg. Marja thinks that he seems very pleasant and reliable. Prytkov had three years earlier started a new company with three other persons when he realized that there is a market for vintage aircraft.

From the Nevski Prospect they move to the nearby home of engineer Lena Dmitriev, Marja's sister-in-law. Prytkov shows the documentation of his company and photos of the aircraft he has found and a customs document of an aircraft transferred to Switzerland.

Prytkov tells that the company has connections to aviation museums around the world, but not to Finland prior to this meeting. They had hoped for that in order search Finnish archives to find the locations of the downed aircraft.

They plan to search for the Brewster in the Gulf of Finland where lots of aircraft ended. The issue had already been studied by the Finnish aviation specialist Timo Nyman, whose godfather Eino Iisakki Peltola was one of the victims in the dogfights over the Gulf of Finland. Maps drawn by Nyman were to be utilized during the search.

Prytkov tells about the equipment he has in his possession and expresses a wish to get more modern search equipment. He thinks that the visit to Moscow was a mistake. Now they just have to hope that nobody remembers the person who asked for the search permit and that there isn't a person who would realize the chance for some extra side income.

Get the aircraft to Finland fast

During the meeting in St. Petersburg they agree that Lena Dmitriev will draft an agreement with Petro-Avia. In the agreement they have to take into consideration the vastness of the search area, depth and the search time. After the signing of the agreement Petro-Avia gets the the agreed sum of money as a down payment to activate the search.

The condition and the price of the aircraft is estimated if and when it is found. It is agreed that the aircraft will be guarded all the time and that it will be transferred to Finland as soon as possible. After passing the customs the searchers will be paid the final sum by the representative of the purchaser in St. Petersburg.

The deal is signed in early June [1994?]. Marja Dmitriev takes part in the negotiations and is in constant contact with Marvin Kottman in Nebraska. After the deal is done Gary Villiard flies to St. Petersburg and Marja Dmitriev and Vladimir Prytkov meet him for the first time.

Flying Tigers
revised and updated

Vladimir is arrested, where is Gary?

An American-Russian search party is formed and gets all possible information that Finnish fighter pilots and the War Archives can provide. When the search in the Gulf of Finland turns out difficult, the search party moves to the woods in Karelia. Villiard visits Finland several times, also Prytkov visits once, meets Heimo Lampi and goes to the War Archives with Timo Nyman and Marja Dmitriev.

After 1996 there is silence, total silence. On the 30th of August 1998 former Brewster pilot Major Vaino Pokela calls Marja Dmitriev and tells that the aircraft has been found and it'll be on the MTV3 Morning News. Marja Dmitriev is nervous. Pokela didn't know who had found the aircraft. Next morning clarifies that Lauri Pekuri's Brewster had been found in the small Kole lake close to Seesjarvi and the town of Segezha. Vladimir Prytkov had led the search team. The searchers had been arrested. There is a bag with Gary Villiard's name tag on the video.

Now Marja Dmitriev knows that their team had found the aircraft but she wonders why she wasn't informed. Why was Vladimir Prytkov arrested, where is Gary, and does Marvin Kottman know their destiny?

Marja Dmitriev calls Marvin Kottman in Nebraska. Kottman doesn't know that the aircraft is found and he hasn't heard from Villiard in two years.

Kottman says that he will do some inquiries. He calls Helsinki the same day and says that Gary Villiard isn't in the woods in Karelia. He is in the US with a video of the Brewster trying to sell it to the US Navy Museum.

It starts to become evident that Gary Villiard had used Kottman's money and Finnish knowledge for his own purposes. Villiard has a problem, though. The aircraft is now the property of the Karelian Republic and the government of Karelia has the power to say what happens to it.

After several calls Marja Dmitriev finds out from the Segezha police station that the aircraft is being moved from the original site to the military airfield close to the town.

Prytkov is found at the military airfield

In the plane bound for Kajaani on the evening of 14th of September [1998] are Marja Dmitriev, her husband Aleksandr, Marvin Kottman, and his Swiss aviation friend Rudenz Beeler.

From Kajaani they continue by car. They spend the night at Lentiira and continue in the morning to Segezha. They drive straight to the police station in the afternoon.

The policemen are very friendly and helpful. The team is taken to the airfield to see the only Brewster after it had been 56 years in the lake. The aircraft is in very good condition and Marja Dmitriev thinks that it is surprisingly big and heavy. Marja thinks about her father who died in June and the courage that it had taken to get airborne with such an aircraft as a young man.

They decide to spend the night at Segezha, but since the destiny of the plane is still in the hands of the Karelian government, they have to leave for Petroskoi (Petrozavodsk) immediately in the morning.

They go via the airfield. Kottman hopes to meet Vladimir Prytkov who by luck happens to meet the team on the road to the airfield. He says that he searched 40 little lakes before the aircraft was found on the 15th of June. Now he waits for the chaotic trial for his dealing with the property of the Karelian Republic. He can't leave Segezha without permission.

Prytkov says that he has the proper licenses to do the search. He had sunk the engine back to the lake to prevent corrosion and the stealing by local population. He says that the relationship between him and Gary is okay.

Prytkov has to stay at Segezha. Kottman's team is in Petroskoi in the afternoon.

the Glen Edwards diaries

Kottman doubles his offer

Minister of Property Aleksandr Muhin is in a meeting and the visitors are met by his deputy, Minister of Finance Valeri Panov.

Kottman makes and opening offer for the plane, $250,000 US. He states that he intends to have the aircraft restored in the US where it was produced and that it would be displayed in the US Navy Museum.

Marja Dmitriev thinks that the minister got very interested in the offer. The minister told that Aviazaptsasti [Avia Transport] from Moscow has offered to take the plane and have it restored. Kottman says that he isn't interested in an aircraft restored by the Russians. It is possible to do the restoration only in the US where the original drawings are. Kottman estimated that it would take six to eight men and two to three years to restore the aircraft.

There has been a dark large man in the room all the time. He wasn't introduced to the team.

The minister suggests Kottman to make a quick written offer to the head of the Karelian Republic, Sergei Katanandov.

When they leave the government building Kottman says that he raises his offer to $500,000 US. Swiss Beeler suggests an additional $10,000 to to school at Segezha. Kottman agrees with the offer immediately.

Before signing the deal they eat at the Business Club. Spirits are high. They order the most delicious courses from the menu, and they make jokes and laugh.

Everybody can return, there will be no deal

The atmosphere stalls badly when a somber looking man sits next to Kottman. He tells that he is a representative of Aviazaptsasti and announces that his superior Valeri Zakarenko would come next day with his "workers" at 11.00 a.m. to see Kottman. He demanded that Kottman leave the aircraft project. The man promises to take a cellular phone call to his boss who speaks English a bit. He raises from the table and promises to return immediately after he has made the connection.

When the team leaves the Business Club they notice that the dark quiet man that they had seen sitting at the office of the Minister of Finance had also been at the club. He follows Kottman's team to the restaurant of the Severnaja Hotel.

The Aviazaptsasti representative soon shows up at the restaurant with the cell phone and announces that Kottman can now discuss. Kottman moves to the side because of the noise and returns looking pale. He interprets the discussion thus: that Zakarenko announces that [Kottman's] team is his prisoners at Petroskoi, and that this is Russia where the passports that the team members carry have no meaning at all.

The passports are at the hotel. They are taken away by the team. Kottman tries to call home from the hotel to his lawyer. He succeeds only with Marja Dmitriev's cell phone. Kottman reaches also Gary Villiard.

During the call it becomes evident that Zakarenko and Villiard are working together. Because of his troubles after finding the aircraft Villiard had contacted Zakarenko. Villiard calms Kottman during the conversation by saying that everybody can leave Petroskoi as long as they don't make an offer for the aircraft.

In the morning of the 17th of September Zakarenko's representative and the dark quiet man from the ministry meeting make sure that the team leaves Petroskoi. Aleksandr Dmitriev is requested to make a call to Minister of Finance Panov and call off the oral deal.

Kottman thinks that the safety of the group is more important than aircraft deals and the team leaves Petroskoi.

Michael's War

Everybody mind your own business

Marja Dmitriev faxed Kottman's offer to the head of the Karelian Republic Sergei Katanandov and the Minister of Finance Valeri Panov on Monday the 21st of September [1998].

Panov's secretary acknowledged receiving the faxes, with Katanandov's fax being clearer to read. Despite several tries Marja Dmitriev can't contact Katanandov. An unidentified man tells that the aircraft has been given legally to the Aviazaptsasti in Moscow to be restored. Marja Dmitriev asks how one can legally deal with criminals.

On Wednesday the 23rd of September Katanandov's secretary lets slip that she hasn't delivered the fax yet but that she would put it on top of the papers today.

Marja Dmitriev calls the local police chief at Segezha. The previously friendly policeman now refuses to answer even the question if the aircraft is still in town or not. He advises to contact the government and suggests that everybody should mind their own business.

Marja Dmitriev remembers one state official who had made an honest impression years ago. She calls him. The person promises to take care of the matter, understanding that it is in the best interest of the people in Karelia instead of letting the aircraft go to Moscow for nothing and the money will there go into anonymous pockets.

Rumors start

The state official delivers Kottman's offer personally to Katanandov on the 20th of October [1998]. He sees the offer now for the first time and orders immediately the Minister of Property Aleksandr Muhin and Minister of Culture Tatjana Kalsnik to discuss with Kottman and report the results directly to him.

The Minister of Culture is reportedly willing to do so but because of the delaying done by the Minister of Property the meeting can be arranged in late October to take place on the 4th of November.

Kottman can't make it and a legal documents can't be arranged for Marja Dmitriev to represent Kottman. Muhin refuses to meet Dmitriev without these papers.

Information from Petroskoi tells that according to the deal made on the 18th of September Aviazaptsasti has moved the aircraft from Segezha to Tver, 200 km northwest of Moscow. Marja Dmitriev wonders how the co-operators with Aviazaptsasti, Gary Villiard and the Irishman Michael Ryan, can still go on marketing the aircraft in the US. Isn't it the property of the Karelian Republic as had been said and assured? The auction promised (and announced only in the local paper) by the Minister of Property Muhin hasn't taken place yet.

Rumors take wings. Colonel Lauri Pekuri (FAF ret.) hears the story which says that the aircraft would be already in a container and that Finnish officials had already assured that the Brewster can be transported via Finland. Pekuri doesn't believe these stories.

Marja Dmitriev calls Prytkov on the 14th of November [1998]. Prytkov has been relieved of all charges against him. The aircraft and the engine are stored under a roof in Moscow.

Next: 5 From Ireland to Pensacola

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Sorry Saga of the Brewster Buffalo

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