U.S. Air Force Lt. Mike Tisik, a Brooke County native, was among 44 men lost when their C-54 Skymaster airplane vanished from the frigid air over Yukon in northwestern Canada on Jan. 26, 1950. For more than 60 years, his family has carried the burden of his disappearance and the mystery surrounding it.
Now, Paul Vilga III is trying to convince the government to reopen the search for his great uncle's aircraft and bring some closure for his grandmother, Stella Vilga, one of Tisik's six surviving siblings. He needs a lot of help to do that, however -- specifically, collecting 25,000 "signatures" by June 1 on an online petition listed on the White House website.
"She will turn 80 on July 1, and I would like nothing more than to be able to tell her that someone is still looking for her brother," said Vilga, a Weirton native now living in North Carolina.
Shown here is the C-54 Skymaster aircraft that vanished in 1950 over northwestern Canada, carrying Brooke County native Air Force Lt. Mike Tisik. What happened to the aircraft and its passengers remains a mystery, but there is an open petition on the White House website to reopen the investigation.
Anyone can sign the petition by visiting wh.gov/E7a, and all that's required is a name, valid email address and ZIP code. You can also learn more by visiting the "Operation Mike" Facebook page at www.facebook.com/operationmike -- named after the original search operation, which was one of the largest ever conducted on the North American continent but provided no clues as to what caused the aircraft to disappear or the whereabouts of its passengers and crew.
Even reaching the all-important 25,000 mark wont guarantee the government will resurrect the search -- but it will require the Obama administration to consider the request and issue an official response, according to the White House website.
As of Monday afternoon, the petition had received only 215 signatures. Although he knows the effort is facing long odds, Paul Vilga III believes it's an effort well worth making.
"Every soldier deserves to come home, and Lt. Mike Tisik was one of the Ohio Valley's own," Paul Vilga III said.
Follansbee City Council expressed its full support of the petition during its meeting last week, added City Manager John DeStefano.
According to an article published Jan. 20, 1950, Tisik lived in a small mining community called Louise, entering the service following his 1943 graduation from Follansbee High School. Tisik was the oldest son among 10 children; their father, Jacob Tisik, was a former miner and also worked at the Koppers plant in Follansbee.
Mike Tisik was co-piloting the C-54 Skymaster on a flight from Anchorage, Alaska, to Great Falls, Mont., when it disappeared. Its last radio communication was received at 5:09 p.m. from somewhere in the vicinity of Snag, a Canadian village less than 20 miles from the Alaskan border.
The average temperature in that region during January is about minus 24 degrees Fahrenheit.