Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wreckage found under 25 feet of water leaves authorities searching for answers

By Ron Colquitt
March 12, 2008

A fisherman experimenting with his new sonar detection device discovered the wreckage of a single-engine airplane this week under about 25 feet of water in Big Creek Lake, authorities said.

The fisherman, Teddy Shepherd, made the discovery about noon Monday near the lake's boat ramp. The plane appeared to be upside down but not badly broken up, he said.

"At first I didn't believe it and had to take a second look," he said. "There is not supposed to be a plane under water."

Kate Johnson, Mobile County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, said divers with the Sheriff's Flotilla went down Tuesday and did not find any bodies in or near the plane, which was identified as a Beechcraft Sierra.

She said the water was murky, and the divers had trouble reading the plane's tail number. As a result, they are not sure if they got the right number to report to the Federal Aviation Administration to help determine ownership.

Johnson said flotilla members brought up a seat cushion, part of the landing gear and what appeared to be a side window. She said no drugs or personal items that would help identify the plane's owner or the pilot were found during the dives.

There have been no reports of recent plane crashes in that area of northwest Mobile County, she said.

That type of plane carries four people and has retractable landing gear, according to Jim Coleman, a Baldwin County attorney and private pilot. Coleman did not see the plane but was told about it by the Press-Register.

The Mobile Area Water and Sewer System regulates the lake, which is the city's drinking water source.

"The only concern for water quality is if the plane is moved," MAWSS Director Malcolm Steeves said Tuesday. "We would hope there would be care taken to contain any fuel or other cargo that might have potential for causing problems."

Johnson said it could be days or weeks before the plane is removed.

Shepherd, 45, said he bought the sonar device for $1,000 four days before he took it to Big Creek Lake to try it out. He purchased it from a Baldwin County search and rescue organization.

Shepherd uses the instrument to search for underwater objects, such as trees or parts of old bridges, that attract fish. It can detect objects up to 400 feet deep.

Coleman, the 52-year-old attorney, has been a pilot for about 10 years and volunteers with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary in its searches for missing people, dead bodies and water pollution.

He said there is a small grass landing strip near the lake and other places nearby that a pilot could put a plane down in an emergency. The lake also is just a few miles north of Mobile Regional Airport.

Coleman said the plane has two doors, so it would be easy for an uninjured person to escape in an emergency.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

History group seeks to link zipper pull to Amelia Earhart

February 17, 2008

MEADVILLE, Pa. — An aviation history group is turning to a historical society to see if a defunct zipper maker made a zipper pull found on an island where they think Amelia Earhart may have disappeared.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery asked the Crawford County Historical Society for help in determining the date of a small brass zipper pull made by Talon, a hookless fastener company that operated in Meadville from 1913 through the late 1980s.

The aviation group members found the pull in 2007 on Nikumaroro, a coral atoll in the western Pacific Ocean.

The island sits along the flight path from New Guinea to Howland Island that Earhart was following when her Lockheed Electra disappeared on July 2, 1937. The aviation group members theorize that the plane crashed on or near the island.

"This is exciting stuff," said Ric Gillespie, executive director of Delaware-based aviation group. "Now we have this site on the island that is producing artifacts that speak of an American woman in her 30s, and the only one missing out there is her. So, this is solid stuff."

The aviation group members would like to know when the pull was made to see if it was available when Earhart disappeared.

Anne Stewart of the historical society said she learned that Talon didn't begin stamping only "Talon" on its products until Jan. 24, 1937.

But Stewart said she is skeptical the pull could have belonged to Earhart in part because Col. Lewis Walker, who brought Talon forerunner Automatic Hook and Eye Co. to Meadville, actively promoted his product.

He would probably have capitalized on the publicity from Earhart's use of his product, yet there is no evidence he did so, she said.

"I would say that it is quite possible that Amelia Earhart was wearing a suit with a zipper on it. I'm just not willing to say that the one they found was one of them," Stewart said.

Stewart said more research must be done because a lot of Talon information is scattered about the Meadville area.

Gillespie said he wants to go to Meadville to compare the pull to archived Talon items.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Edmund Fitzgerald explorer looks for Dr. Amano's plane

By Carol Martin
January 27, 2008

Dr. Ness Amano's single-engine Cessna 172 was last seen taking off from Sault Ste. Marie around 2:30 p.m. on July 24, 2005.

Searchers combed the area from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa and Marathon using airplanes, helicopters, and boats as well as ground searches.

But no sign of the Marathon, Ontario dentist was ever found.

His wife and mother remain hopeful that the mystery of his disappearance will be solved.

And for help, they've turned to Tom Farnquist, the man who retrieved the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Farnquist is executive director of the Michigan Soo-based Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.

He's shown with significant other Chris Sams, who is also the shipwreck society's business manager, at a meeting this past week of the Sault Ste. Marie Power and Sail Squadron at the Marconi Hall.

The intrepid adventurers head a team of researchers from the society who operate a remotely operated vehicle [ROV] that's managed to find more than a few wrecks that many thought were lost forever.

Farnquist's presentation at the Marconi disclosed details of planned search for Dr Amano's missing aircraft next summer in Batchawana Bay next summer.

"The OPP and others who participated in the initial search did a great job," he said. "But I guess they said it was highly unlikely that he could be in the area outside where they searched."

"The family would like us to continue to look outside that area just to cover all the bases and maybe help them bring some closure even if we don't find anything."

"The family heard that we have some capability to find some very small objects, even in very deep water," he said. "They contacted us in hopes that we can help."

The ROV the team uses is a Phantom S4 and it's worth about a quarter of a million dollars, said Farnquist.

"It's equipped with a robot arm and enough power to almost tow a water skier," joked Farnquist. "But seriously, we needed a little more power than the average robot to cope with the currents we get, especially in Lake Superior."

The team searches for wrecks mostly in northern Lake Huron and Michigan and Eastern Lake Superior.

Farnquist said that the wrecks they've found in Lake Superior have so far been free of zebra mussels but the ones in the lower lakes are so encrusted that they are almost unrecognizable.

Some are on the verge of collapse from the weight of the invasive mussels encrusting them.

The most recent discovery the group made came as a surprise to everybody but but Sams, who kept telling Farnquist it wasn't the wreck he thought it was.

"When we found it, we thought it was the D.M. Clemson," he says. "But she [Sams] was standing behind me telling me it was the Cyprus. There I was telling her to leave me alone as I was trying to fly this expensive robot around the wreck and find the name without tangling it in the harness and there it was as clear as day - the name Cyprus was unmistakable."

The pair have been diving and searching for wrecks for about 15 years and have found many a treasure together.

Next summer they hope to find a few answers for the family of Dr. Ness Amano as well.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Old landing gear linked to 1945 airplane crash

By Charlie Patton
January 18, 2008

Although the Navy says it is still investigating the source of a large airplane landing gear snagged off the St. Augustine coast in a shrimper's net in early December, two local experts on vintage military aircraft say they are certain it's from a World War II-era bomber manufactured as a B-24.

Roy Stafford, a former Marine pilot who for many years restored vintage aircraft and now consults for museums and collectors, said the landing gear came off a PB4Y-1, which was originally manufactured for use by the Army Air Corps as a B-24 Liberator but was converted for use by the Navy. An official with the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, after reviewing photos Stafford sent him, agreed that the gear came from a PB4Y-1.

Stafford, who viewed the landing gear at the urging of Mike Collins, a retired FBI agent and former Air Force investigator who now works as a private investigator on Amelia Island, said he is 99 percent sure they know the specific plane from which the landing gear came.

After reviewing an Internet site that lists what happened to all PB4Y-1 aircraft, Stafford and Collins concluded this gear came from a plane that crashed off the coast of Mayport on April 17, 1945, killing 12 of 13 men aboard.

According to contemporary accounts in The Florida Times-Union and in the Jacksonville Journal, the plane crashed during a morning training flight that began at the Naval Auxiliary Air Station, which was located at Jacksonville's Municipal Airport. Later called Imeson Airport, it is now the site of Imeson Industrial Park.

Two Jacksonville residents were listed among those who were killed in the crash: the pilot, Lt. Donald LeGarde Jackson, and Ens. David Foreman Hayes.

According to a copy of a post-crash Navy report that Collins obtained from the organization Aviation Archaeology Investigation and Research, a fire near the cockpit caused the aircraft to spin into the ocean about 3 miles off Mayport. One crew member, James H. Mulkey of Seattle, bailed out and was picked up by a Navy boat.

At the time of the crash, World War II was still being fought on two fronts. Allied forces were closing in on Berlin while fighting between American and Japanese forces raged on the Pacific island of Okinawa.

Last Dec. 1, shrimper Jerry Dean Armstrong was operating his boat off the coast of St. Augustine when a large object tangled in his nets. Unable to free it or bring it to the surface, Armstrong returned to Mayport and the docks of the Mat Roland Seafood Co., where the landing gear remains.

Navy personnel examined the landing gear at the time but as of Thursday they had made no determination.

"The investigation is ongoing," said Bill Austin, a spokesman for Mayport Naval Station.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

WWII P-38 Fighter Discovered in Wales


Dallas History
November 15, 2007

NEW YORK - Sixty-five years after an American P-38 fighter plane ran out of gas and crash-landed on a beach in Wales, the long-forgotten World War II relic has emerged from the surf and sand where it lay buried.

Beach strollers, sunbathers and swimmers often frolicked within a few yards of the aircraft, unaware of its existence until last summer, when unusual weather caused the sand to shift and erode.

The revelation of the Lockheed "Lightning" fighter, with its distinctive twin-boom design, has stirred interest in British aviation circles and among officials of the country's aircraft museums, ready to reclaim another artifact from history's greatest armed conflict.

Based on its serial number and other records, "the fighter is arguably the oldest P-38 in existence, and the oldest surviving 8th Air Force combat aircraft of any type," said Ric Gillespie, who heads a U.S.-based nonprofit group dedicated to preserving historic aircraft. "In that respect it's a major find, of exceptional interest to British and American aviation historians."

Gillespie finds romance as well as historic significance in the discovery of the aircraft, long forgotten by the U.S. government.

"It's sort of like `Brigadoon,' the mythical Scottish village that appears and disappears," he said. "Although the Welsh aren't too happy about that analogy — they have some famous legends of their own."

Gillespie's organization, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, learned of the plane's existence in September from a British air history enthusiast and sent a team to survey the site last month. The group plans to collaborate with British museum experts in recovering the fragile but nearly intact aircraft next spring.

The Imperial War Museum Duxford and the Royal Air Force Museum are among the institutions expressing interest.

"The difficult part is to keep such a dramatic discovery secret. Looting of historic wrecks, aircraft or ships, is a major problem, in Britain as it is worldwide," Gillespie said.

British aviation publications have been circumspect about disclosing the exact location, and local Welsh authorities have agreed to keep the plane under surveillance whenever it is exposed by the tides of the Irish Sea, he said. For now, the aircraft is again buried under sand.

Officially, the U.S. Air Force considers any aircraft lost before Nov. 19, 1961 — when a fire destroyed many records — as "formally abandoned," and has an interest in such cases only if human remains are involved.

The twin-engine P-38, a radical design conceived by Lockheed design genius Clarence "Kelly" Johnson in the late 1930s, became one of the war's most successful fighter planes, serving in Europe and the Pacific. About 10,000 of the planes were built, and about 32 complete or partial airframes are believed to still exist, perhaps 10 in flying condition.

Another P-38, part of a "lost squadron" of warplanes marooned by bad weather in Greenland while being flown to Europe in 1942, was recovered and extensively restored with new parts. Dubbed "Glacier Girl," its attempt to complete the flight to Britain earlier this year was thwarted by mechanical problems.

The Wales Lightning, built in 1941, reached Britain in early 1942 and flew combat missions along the Dutch-Belgian coast.

Second Lt. Robert F. "Fred" Elliott, 24, of Rich Square, N.C., was on a gunnery practice mission on Sept. 27, 1942, when a fuel supply error forced him to make an emergency landing on the nearest suitable place — the Welsh beach.

His belly landing in shallow water sheared off a wingtip, but Elliott escaped unhurt. Less than three months later, the veteran of more than 10 combat missions was shot down over Tunisia, in North Africa. His plane and body were never found.

As the disabled P-38 could not be flown off the beach, "American officers had the guns removed, and the records say the aircraft was salvaged, but it wasn't," Gillespie said. "It was gradually covered with sand, and there it sat for 65 years. With censorship in force and British beaches closed to the public during the war, nobody knew it was there."

It was first spotted by a family enjoying a day at the beach on July 31.

The discovery was stunning news for Robert Elliott, 64, of Blountville, Tenn., the pilot's nephew and only surviving relative. He has spent nearly 30 years trying to learn more about his namesake's career and death.

All he knew of the Wales incident was a one-line entry saying Elliott had "ditched a P-38 and was uninjured."

"So this is just a monumental discovery, and a very emotional thing," said Elliott, an engineering consultant. He said he hopes to be present for the recovery.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Divers salvage crashed airplane


October 30, 2007

The flight that Vincent "Mark" Molina started in his vintage airplane Wednesday finally ended on dry land last night as Molina and friends and members of a salvage team cheered and clapped.

Working for several hours Monday afternoon, Molina and a professional salvage team headed by Kerry Dillon carefully secured the plane's fuselage and painstakingly hoisted it out of the water at the site of what used to be the Northside Marina west of the Roosevelt Bridge.

It took several hours to tow the plane just under the surface of the water from the site where it crashed Wednesday behind Martin Memorial Medical Center, to a slip in the marina where a crane could lift it to the dock.

It was gently lifted into place on its landing gear. Water and a mixture of oil and grease dripped off the fuselage as Molina examined the cockpit for damage.

It will be placed on a flatbed trailer today and towed to the St. Lucie International Airport in Fort Pierce.

The 1946 Ercoupe 415-C plane lost power about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and Molina, 54, of Fort Pierce, and passenger Gary Hirsch, 62, of Port St. Lucie, chose to crash it in the water to avoid injuring others on land.

The plane flipped over when the landing gear hit water, but the men escaped relatively uninjured because it had an open cockpit. A local fisherman picked them up and threw over a crab trap to mark where the plane sank in about 7 feet of water.

On Sunday, the second of the plane's two wings was brought up to make it easier to surface the fuselage.

Despite the dramatic crash and having to foot the bill to salvage his plane, Molina has remained upbeat about the whole experience.

He said Monday he was fortunate to apply extensive corrosion proofing to the aluminum plane a week before the crash. The proofing was meant to protect the plane from the sea air, but it has helped preserve the body and wings underwater.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

US team finds World War II bombers, fighter off Corsica


Political Gateway
September 20, 2007

CALVI, France - A US military team searching for the remains of American soldiers from World War II has discovered the wreckage of two B-17 bombers and a P-47 fighter plane off the coast of Corsica.

The 13-man team led by Captain George Mitroka conducted seven days of marine searches near the French Mediterranean island, equipped with sonars, radars, cameras and video equipment.

A B-17 bomber that crashed off the coast of Calvi in northern Corsica in February 1944 after a missed landing was found at a site known to local divers for decades.

A second one was discovered near Ajaccio airport at a depth of only 12 metres, said Howard Mariteragi, a member of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which seeks to account for US soldiers missing from war.

The P-47 fighter plane was discovered off the coast of Bastia after a Corsican diver provided the US team with the exact GPS coordinates of the wreckage.

The US team, which was making its first visit to Corsica, did not recover any remains at the wreckage sites, but plans to return for further searches.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Divers not giving up quest to explain 1950 plane crash

By James Prichard
July 12, 2007

GRAND RAPIDS -- The quest to locate the Lake Michigan site where an airliner carrying 58 people went down decades ago could help uncover the cause of the mysterious crash, even if the wreckage itself never is found, says the woman leading the search that again failed to find the plane this spring.

"I feel very strongly that it's not so much finding the wreckage that's going to provide the answers. I think we're getting the answers in the course of the search for the plane," Valerie van Heest said Wednesday from her Holland home.

From late April through late May, the diver and her group, Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates, scoured a 23-square-mile area of the lake off South Haven but found no sign of the crash site of Northwest Airlines Flight 2501. They were helped by a three-member underwater-search team provided by author and shipwreck hunter Clive Cussler. The organization started the search in fall 2004.

Van Heest said she is learning a lot from reading courtroom transcripts she obtained from a liability lawsuit that some of the victims' relatives filed years ago against Northwest. She has read about 300 of the 2,500 pages of transcribed testimony from witnesses and crash experts that she believes has information that will be of help during her next search.

The team also conducted searches in spring 2005 and spring 2006 and plans to return to southern Lake Michigan next year.

The flight, a DC4 carrying 55 passengers and three crew members, originated in New York City and was ultimately bound for Seattle. It crashed June 23, 1950, killing all aboard in the nation's deadliest airliner accident up to that time.

The crash happened during a raging thunderstorm but no cause could be determined.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Search resumes for 1950 sunken plane


Daily India
May 25, 2006

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. -- A search has resumed in Lake Michigan for a near-forgotten Northwest Airlines DC-4 that crashed in a storm 56 years ago and took 58 lives.

Underwater archeologists and amateur historians have embarked on a mission to find the wreckage of Flight 2501 in 200 feet of water about 18 miles northwest of Benton Harbor, The Chicago Tribune reported.

On June 23, 1950, 55 passengers and a crew of three took off from New York's LaGuardia Airport bound for Seattle but encountered stormy weather over the lake and crashed.

Body parts, a fuel tank float, blankets, shredded arm rests and small wooden pieces from the 93-foot-long plane were about all that was recovered from Lake Michigan beaches for several days.

The aircraft had no data or voice recorders and an investigation concluded the plane either broke up or the crew lost control in turbulence.

Searchers this week finished scanning the lakebed with high-tech equipment, and divers hope to return to specific sites on Saturday, the newspaper said.

The search is being financed by Clive Cussler, author of underwater adventure fiction that has sold more than 100 million copies.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Piece Of Navy Jet That Crashed Off Florida Washes Up In Ireland

May 09, 2006

NORFOLK, Va. -- A tail section from a U.S. Navy fighter jet that crashed 3½ years ago off Key West, Fla., has turned up 4,900 miles away on a beach in Ireland.

A retired commercial airline captain, identified by the Irish Examiner newspaper as Charlie Coughlan, discovered the tail piece Friday. The Navy confirmed Tuesday that markings on the section, including squadron insignia and a serial number, pointed to the downed F-14 Tomcat.

Currents from the Gulf of Mexico near the tip of Florida might have floated the nearly 10-foot-long triangular piece of vertical stabilizer, one of two on the plane, to the beach in West Cork on Ireland's southern shore.

The F-14, based in Virginia, crashed near Key West in the Gulf of Mexico on Oct. 3, 2002, during a training mission. Both crew members ejected safely.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Aviation buff on mission to find lost wreckage


Billings Gazette
May 01, 2006

POLSON -- Somewhere at the bottom of Flathead Lake not far from Yellow Bay sit the remains of a military jet that crashed more than 40 years ago. John Gisselbrecht is intent on finding them.

Gisselbrecht is with Missoula's Museum of Mountain Flying and is launching an underwater search this week to see if he can pinpoint the wreckage, and possibly the pilot's remains.

Gisselbrecht doesn't want to remove the wreckage, but hopes to locate it, identify it and prevent it from being removed by salvagers in the future.

"We will respect this and treat the site as a grave," he said. "We will not be recovering the pilot or the aircraft."

Capt. John Eaheart of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and a combat aviator during the war in Korea, was on a training flight from Los Alamitos Naval Air Station in California when the F9F Cougar fighter and pilot plunged into the lake the evening of March 21, 1960.

Eaheart, 30, had flown to Malmstrom Air Force Base to log training hours, then made a side trip to Missoula where he flew over the homes of his parents and sister -- and then north to Flathead Lake, where the parents of his fiance, Viola Pinkerman lived.

The late K.C. Pinkerman, Viola's father, saw the plane go down from his Blue Bay residence.

Pinkerman provided a good idea of where it crashed. He said it went down about 2 1/2 miles slightly east and north of Matterhorn Point on Wild Horse Island and on a direct line between Matterhorn Point and Blue Bay on the lake's east shore.

Boats and a barge scoured the surface during the days after the crash and found some debris, including Eaheart's aviation helmet with brain tissue inside.

Neither the plane nor its pilot were ever recovered because the lake depth between Wild Horse Island and the east shore exceeds 200 feet, making salvage attempts unfeasible 46 years ago.

Now, that might change.

Gisselbrecht, an aviator from Kalispell, said he's been interested in the fate of the aircraft since 1991. He wants to make sure the pilot and plane rest undisturbed by salvage profiteers and souvenir hunters.

"Technology is changing, and it's more and more likely someone could come in there and scoop that plane out of there and sell it for scrap," he said.

To protect the plane and make sure the body remains undisturbed -- which is also Viola Pinkerman Lewis' wish -- he needs the specific location of the plane and, if possible, the location of Eaheart's remains.

Once he has the information, which he says will remain confidential, he will notify the Montana Historic Preservation Office and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of National Registry. Under a federal law called the Antiquities Act, these agencies can protect the site from disturbance.

The cause of the crash has never been determined, at least as far as Gisselbrecht has been able to determine. He made persistent requests for records from both the Air Force and the Marine Corps.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Korea, US Work Together to Salvage Fighter Jet


The Korea Times
March 27, 2006

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The navies of South Korea and the United States are working closely together to salvage an F-16C fighter that crashed in the West Sea earlier this month, the U.S. military here said Monday.
The U.S. Safeguard, which arrived in the southern military port city of Jinhae on March 16 from Japan, will join the operation with South Korea's warship the Pyongtaek for two weeks, the United States Navy Command based here said in a statement.

The U.S. plane is believed to be under about 20 meters of water about 30 kilometers from coastal Kunsan Air Base in North Cholla Province.

On March 14, the plane's American pilot ejected safely and was later flown back to the U.S. base, where he was treated at a medical clinic and released, according to U.S. military officials.

``The Guardian, which is participating in the Foal Eagle exercise, is also helping the salvage operation by calculating the depth of the sea and the position of the underwater object using sound waves,’’ the statement said.

The Safeguard is planning to deliver the wrecked plane to the U.S. mainland. South Korea and the U.S. are engaged in the biggest combined military exercise of the year on the Korean Peninsula starting Saturday.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Work on Pacific Aviation Museum to start


Pacific Business News
March 17, 2006

Work on the first phase of the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor is scheduled to begin next week with the groundbreaking and blessing on Tuesday.

The proposed $75-million museum is to be built on 16 acres on the Navy-controlled island, which was at the center of the attack by the Japanese in 1941.

The first phase will involve the construction of the museum in Hangar 37 at a cost of $11 million. The museum is scheduled to open in December.

About $13 million has been raised so far, a combination of individual and corporate donations and money from the federal and state governments.

The project is envisioned as a complement to existing historical attractions at Pearl Harbor, including the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri.

The aviation museum will ultimately include displays of aircraft in several restored hangars, the renovation of the distinctive 1930s-era control tower and the preservation of the battle scars that remain on the runways and buildings six decades after the attack.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Restrictions Eased on Historic B-29 Lake Mead Crash Site


March 02, 2006

It's an interesting piece of Southern Nevada History, but no one is allowed to see it. At least until now. But the National Park Service is getting ready to make this artifact available to at least some people.

The plane crashed into the Overton arm of Lake Mead in 1948, and wasn't rediscovered until 53 years later. Since then, it's been closed to the public. Of course, most of the public wouldn't be able to get to it anyhow. This plane is way down there...almost 200 feet.

Ghostly images on a TV screen are all most will ever see of this B-29 superfortess, which went down while doing cold war research.

Russ Green is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and is controlling a VideoRay Remote Operational Vehicle (ROV).

"We're looking at an oxygen cylinder...there's several aboard and airplane...that the pilot and crew could breathe oxygen at higher elevations. This one just happened to fall out from the rear of the plane," narrates Green, glancing at the screen.

The crew escaped alive, but the plane has been there ever since. And the National Park Service doesn't want to see that change.

"Removing the plane from where it is now would dramatically effect its prospects for the future," explains NPS Archeologist Dave Conlin. "And it would radically increase its corrosion and decay rate. So we weren't convinced it was in the best interests of that particular resource to bring it up."

Even without NPS protection, this site is out of reach for amateur divers. The members of the NPS Submerged Cultural Resources Unit use advanced "rebreathers" instead of standard dive tanks. And have to have a recompression chamber on hand just in case--heaven forbid--someone was to get the bends.

"There's a kind of a gurney in there with handles and a pull rope." says NPS Photographer Brett Seymour. "You'd slide the person in. Put the two ends in. Get a seal and recompress."

From there, the chamber is airlifted to Las Vegas. Luckily, it's never been used. But clearly, visiting the B-29 isn't for everyone.

"The depth here is not that deep for a technical dive," according to Seymour. "But what we're looking at is the conditions. The darkness, the silt. You know, there's a lot of things going on here that make this a challenging dive."

For those who are part of the team, it's a special experience.

"Well you know the whole thing is the sense of history you get. Being able to see what's down there," smiles Diving Consultant Jeff Bozanic, as he emerges from the water.

The National Park Service is now planning to open the restricted waters to qualified divers. For others, it will be video feeds, informational packets and lectures, delivered to schools and the general public.

"We have a dual mandate," says Conlin. "One is to provide recreational opportunities for the American public, but also to preserve cultural and historical resources for future generations. And so striking a balance between that is a difficult thing."

NPS officials haven't yet set a firm date on when the plane will be reopened to technical divers. For now, there is a fine for diving in the area...or even docking your boat there.

Photography by Brett Seymour, National Park Service


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Civil War submarines, World War II bomber remain elusive prey


The Shreveport Times
By John Andrew Prime
March 01, 2006

Civil War submarines known to once be in Shreveport but unseen since that conflict continue to elude searchers.

"The submarines look like they will stay an enigma for a while," said Ralph Wilbanks, the diver who led underwater efforts that found the Confederate submersible Hunley off Charleston Harbor in 1995. "We have looked in the bayou and we didn't see anything we didn't see last time."

Wilbanks, together with fellow Hunley discoverer Harry Pecorelli III and diver Darrell Taylor, has spent the last week in Shreveport, dragging side-scan sonars and magnetometers in countless lanes on mapped grids on the Red River, Cross Bayou and Cross Lake, looking for nagging mysteries from the Civil War to World War II. They may wind up their dives today.

As with Wilbanks' first visit to Shreveport in 1999, the current survey was underwritten by best-selling author Clive Cussler and his nonprofit, volunteer National Underwater and Marine Agency. Cussler said his decision to send Wilbanks and his crew back to Shreveport was based on "new data where the river changed course ... Apparently nothing was found again."

Wilbanks thinks the submarines were abandoned and salvaged after the Civil War.

"I think it's reasonable to think they may have just melted (them) back down and made steel out of (them)," he said.

Wilbanks and his crew also made scanning runs over the site of the suspected grave of the Civil War warship Grand Duke, out in the middle of Red River just north of Cross Bayou.

They got some hits there. That was where Pecorelli dove Tuesday. Results were inconclusive, with the sources of strong magnetometer readings under tree stumps and driftwood.

"There are some targets in the river and some very strong targets on the Bossier side," said Shreveport cartographer and historian Gary Joiner, whose Blanchard Place office has been the divers' nerve center this visit. "Some of the targets in the river are currently protruding above the channel floor a few feet. The Bossier side is currently very shallow in this area and we could not get the instruments near it."

While here, Wilbanks decided to spend a few days scanning Cross Lake to try to find a World War II B-26 bomber long rumored to have belly-landed and sunk into the muck.

"We decided, since we were coming all the way out here, we'd look for this plane, too," Wilbanks said.

While the Red River work took up most of Thursday and Tuesday, Sunday and Monday were spent running scores of tracks up and down the lake, searching but not finding.

"Finding what you're looking for, that's the most exciting part," said Pecorelli. He's worked with Wilbanks since the mid-1990s.

"Most of the time you find out where things aren't," Wilbanks said. "You very seldom find where things are. The other thing is, you either find it in the first lane or the last lane."

Precedent has shown that these historic treasures do exist and are just waiting to be found.

Several decades ago, a fisherman on the Red River noticed something sticking out of a crumbling bluff. It turned out to be a dugout canoe, several millennia old, and one of the area's richest historical finds.

Known wrecks of Civil War-era vessels include the transport Kentucky, just south of LSU-Shreveport, and the Union ironclad Eastport, near Montgomery.

Friday morning was spent crunching Thursday's data.

Wilbanks and Pecorelli gazed intently at sonar runs through the day, pieced pictures together to present a full view of the targeted river and bayou areas, and correlated these to the magnetometer survey results. At one point the team used seven computers and a plotter to examine the data. The afternoon was spent visiting people and places that might be helpful in the search, including the Cross Lake Patrol, Lowe-McFarlane American Legion Post 14 on the lake, and conferring with Shreveport police Sgt. Mike Day, who once worked with the SPD dive team and knew a B-26 pilot who remembered the bomber.

"Monday, we went back out on the lake and looked at a couple of other areas for the plane," Wilbanks said Tuesday. "We found some cable and potentially an old house site. We surveyed all the areas around Squirrel Point, the area most associated with the airplane, and found nothing."

Monday, Joiner learned from fellow historian Eric Brock that a photograph in a local archive shows the plane silhouetted in the lake. Joiner plans to search for the photo today, and if found, the divers may return to the lake. Otherwise, they'll head back to South Carolina.

Tuesday, Wilbanks said, "we went back to the Red River and dived on three sonar targets. They were like log jams. So we did a little more magnetometer work and sonar work and ruled those out."

Even though the survey didn't turn up the subs or the airplane, it has increased the store of knowledge of the Red River and its tributaries.

For years, Joiner has thought the submarines might have been scuttled in an area near the old Battery Walker, which is now under dry land at what Bossier City calls Cane's Landing. Using ground-penetrating radar might be the next step here, he said, but that area was used as a dump for many years, and items from the intervening 14 decades would shield the Civil War material from detection.

These searches are tremendously important in terms of adding to the store of history, Joiner said.

"We are practicing forensic history. We are using the best technology available today in this research. We are working with some of the best known researchers in the world ... . Shreveport is, at this time, one of the focal points for this advanced research because it was important during the Civil War and the research and development then might exist today. If found, these artifacts will be profoundly important for scholars."

Related link: Visit Clive Cussler's underwater search site,


Monday, February 27, 2006

Broken Wings


Underwater Aviation Archaeology

This site is intended as a resource dedicated to the exploration, discovery, documentation, conservation and presentation of heritage (eg, recently discovered, and WW2) aircraft crash sites worldwide. It has a number of facets, for example:

• submerged aviation archaeology (hence the involvement of WAMM)

• conservation

• in-situ preservation

• Partial or total recovery

• Exhibits

• Technical research

• Publication.

The site is aimed at anyone who's desire it is to accurately record, preserve, or present their findings for the benefit of the sites, their stories, the people involved, their relatives and for the future.

This site and its many links to other sites might also serve as a resource that could lead to the study of crashed heritage aircraft becoming recognised as a bonafide heritage or archaeological endeavour. It could also provide links to those who might be able to assist with experiences, new ideas, expertise or other contacts.

Contributors can either have an electronic link to their own site, or they can present their project or finds on this site where it will be viewed by an international audience. Their conclusions, methodology, etc can then be presented for the benefit of others invoved, to add to the body of knowledge and to publicize their work.

Should they wish to, contributors could also seek to obtain feedback from professional, historical and academic bodies and from experienced avocational practitioners who are linked here (ie, capable, independent searchers, researchers, conservators and restorers).

It is not an aim of this site to prescribe method, to criticise, or in any way seek to regulate activities. It is however hoped that the site may assist in the development of a free exchange such that the diminishing archaelogical resource is better managed.

They are also not going to forget the human element: A single aircraft crashing in some remote part of the world is more than thesum parts of its scattered and twisted wreckage. Its journey from assembly to operations, to its final resting place, may well have involved and affected hundreds of people in apparently un-related and fragmented areas, not forgetting emotional attachments thatcan hold for a lifetime where tragedy occurs.

It is our wish, in developing this site and making it readily availablein an un-biased manner, that contributor's, discoveries, research and stories may help unite many of these disparate elements - search, research, discovery, documention, preservation and presentation about the aircraft, the sites, the exhibitions, the reports and people.

Please follow the menu prompts to navigate your way through the site. They hope that you enjoy it and look forward to your contributions.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Crashed US jet likely obliterated


ABC News Online
January 30, 2006

A Queensland Maritime Museum spokesman says not much would be left of a US fighter jet that crashed into the sea off the coast of Queensland on Saturday.

The FA-18 was attempting to land on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan during a training exercise early yesterday morning about 200 kilometres south-east of Brisbane.

The pilot ejected safely but the $27 million aircraft was lost. The pilot was rescued from the sea.

Museum chief executive Ian Jempson says a search for a crashed F111 off the coast of Nowra in New South Wales in the 1980s found only wreckage the size of dinner plates.

He also says the weekend's accident would have occurred over extremely deep water.

"The continental shelf off the east coast of Australia, particularly from Brisbane down to New South Wales, is only in places about 50 miles [80 kilometres] off the coast, so I would assume this aircraft carrier was operating well to sea because of their need for plenty of air space," Mr Jempson said.

The USS Ronald Reagan is the world's largest aircraft carrier. It left Brisbane on Friday after a five-day visit.

Lieutenant Commander Ross from the US Navy says that when the crash happened, five other jets were forced to fly in to Brisbane because they were short on fuel.

"There were five aircraft that were sent into Brisbane International Airport. The reason why they went into Brisbane was because of their fuel state," he said.

The US Navy is investigating the accident.

"It should be noted that there was no damage or impact in the operational capability of the USS Ronald Reagan during the incident," Lieutenant Commander Ross said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) wants the Navy to explain why it might not salvage the jet.

ACF spokesman Chris Smyth says there need to be good reasons why the wreck may be left where it is.

"What we would need to find out is more details about the depth of water and the sorts of logistics that would be required to get the plane out of there and how much fuel is on board," he said.

"We just don't know any of those things. We would hope the US Navy would give us very good information about that, as to why or why they can't get the plane back up to the surface and taken away."

Meanwhile, the Sunshine Coast Environment Council says bags of rubbish apparently from the aircraft carrier have been found in the ocean off the Queensland coast.

Another bag of rubbish was found on the beach at Mudjimba this morning.

Scott Alderson from the Environment Council says he fears the US Navy has treated Australian waters with contempt.

"We're pretty disappointed that the American Navy would treat Australian waters with contempt," he said.

"If that's the sort of attitude, it would give me great fears that we've got a nuclear ship with nuclear capability that has no real responsibility for their own rubbish."


Monday, January 30, 2006

US jet crashes off Queensland


ABC News Online
January 30, 2005

United States officials have confirmed an FA-18 Hornet strike fighter plane has ditched into the sea while attempting a night landing near Brisbane.

The aircraft was attempting to land on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan during a training exercise early yesterday morning about 120 nautical miles south-east of Brisbane.

Lieutenant Commander Gary Ross says the pilot ejected safely but the $37 million aircraft was lost. The pilot was rescued from the sea.

Lieutenant Commander Ross says five other jets were forced to fly in to Brisbane because they were short on fuel.

"There were five aircraft that were sent into Brisbane International Airport. The reason why they went into Brisbane was because of their fuel state," he said.

The USS Ronald Reagan is the world's largest aircraft carrier. It left Brisbane on Friday after a five-day visit.

"It should be noted that there was no damage or impact in the operational capability of the USS Ronald Reagan during the incident," Lieutenant Commander Ross said.

The US Navy is investigating the accident.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

B.C. divers sink Boeing 737 as artificial reef


January 14, 2006

CHEMAINUS, British Columbia -- A Boeing 737 made its final descent on Saturday – 20 metres deep into the waters off the east coast of Vancouver Island.

Cranes slowly lowered the decommissioned plane into the ocean off Chemainus, about 70 kilometres north of Victoria, slightly more than a month after Environment Canada gave final approval to a plan dreamed up by diving fans.

The Artificial Reef Society of B.C. sunk the plane to create an artificial reef in an area that doesn't have much marine life.

The society expects the new reef to be home to dozens of species of sea life within a couple of years, which it hopes will, in turn, lure more divers.

Boaters were on hand to watch the lowering of the plane, a 1970s-era Boeing that had not flown since 2001.

The plane, which had been stripped down, weighs 15 tonnes and measures 30 metres long.
It was to be placed on 4.5-metre high stands on the ocean bottom so divers could swim under it.

The diving society, which began work on the project in 2002, has used ships to create six other artificial reefs in the province.

For the latest project, it received approval from six local First Nations groups as well as Environment Canada.

The group said the plane's resting place was chosen for its lack of sea life, blaming a century of forest-industry debris.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Diver finds warplane wreck

By Jade Bilowol
December 21, 2005

A MYSTERY warplane wreck has been found in a watery grave off the tip of far north Queensland.

Diver and underwater filmmaker Ben Cropp today said he discovered the wreck under 6m of water "about half a mile" off the tip of Cape York last month.

The wreck, that took up to 10 passengers to their deaths during World War II, was either an B24 Liberator bomber, a B17 Fortress or even a Japanese Emily flying boat, Mr Cropp said.

Mr Cropp said he was determined return to the site, near Albany Passage, next year to unravel the mystery.

"It's intriguing – there were no survivors, unless it was a Japanese plane and they would want to sneak away," Mr Cropp said.

"I'll identify it by counting the pistons, and they should still be intact, or by finding the name of the engine on the cowling."

He found the wing tip and three engines of the war plane, as well as its coral-covered fuselage, while filming the documentary The Silent Warriors.

"It is a huge, huge bomber – it has a wing span of more than 30m," he said.

"I would say it is the largest plane to crash in Australia. There would be others of the same size but there hasn't been a larger one to crash on land or in the sea here."

However, he doubted any human remains would be recovered from the wreck.

"The sea just eats up everything," Mr Cropp said.

He said the discovery was one of 231 warplane wrecks that crashed in the far north Queensland region during World War II.

Mr Cropp believed the plane crashed because it ran out of fuel.


Lost Patrol might not have lived up to name with today's technology


The State
By Robert Nolin
December 04, 2005

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Sixty years ago Monday, 14 men in five Navy planes took off from Fort Lauderdale on a routine practice mission. Then the "Lost Patrol" vanished into mystery - and the myth of the Bermuda Triangle.

Aviation experts and historians figure Flight 19 soared off course, perhaps due to a malfunction in old-fangled navigational equipment, and ditched in the Atlantic.

"I don't know where we are," the commander radioed at one point.

But with today's sophisticated aviation technology, it's unlikely the Lost Patrol would ever have lived up to its name. Aids like the Global Positioning System make it nearly impossible for aviators to steer astray.

"There's no excuse to get lost," aviation consultant Bob Baron said from his Savannah office. "You have to purposely try."

Flight 19, consisting of five, single-engine Avenger torpedo bombers, rumbled out of what is now Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on the afternoon of Dec. 5, 1945. The squadron was to fly to a bombing range in the Bahamas, then continue on a triangular path back to base.

Within 90 minutes, flight commander Lt. Charles C. Taylor reported compass trouble. Taylor thought he was over the Keys, and directed the gunmetal blue planes northeast, toward what he thought was the Florida Peninsula. Based on radio transmissions, investigators think the aircraft flew far out to sea, then west toward land, crashing before reaching Florida's East Coast.

One of aviation's greatest mysteries deepened later that night, when a seaplane searching for the doomed flight also crashed, killing 13. A total of 27 men were lost for what Navy investigators later labeled "causes unknown."

But theorists on the Bermuda Triangle, which stretches from Fort Lauderdale to Bermuda to Puerto Rico, have a smorgasbord of causes why the Lost Patrol, and other vessels and aircraft, vanish there: Interdimensional wormholes, the lost continent of Atlantis, electromagnetic windstorms, time portals, military experimentation, lunar gravitation, alien kidnapping.

Other observers - either less imaginative or less starry-eyed, depending on your point of view - simply see the triangle's peculiar disappearances as resulting from high air and sea traffic in an area notorious for unpredictable storms and unforgiving seas.

Baron speculated the planes' compasses could have gone haywire because of electromagnetic activity, the "chaff" that sometimes shows up on radar screens.

And the compass was the main navigation tool in those days. Flight 19's pilots relied solely on it and dead reckoning - determining position by calculating distance, speed and time. "Pilotage," or looking out the window and studying landmarks, was also common.

"It's a very crude way of navigating," Navy Cmdr. Pat Buckley, an expert on aviation technology, said from his base at Patuxent River, Md.

"It just amazes me to think they could go out on a mission to some remote island and turn around and go back and find an aircraft carrier or a flotilla of ships using the navigation that existed at the time," said Walt Houghton, 64, assistant to the director of aviation at Fort Lauderdale's airport.

Scant years after Flight 19 winged into legend, navigation technology took a baby step forward with non-directional beacons. A pilot could adjust course by tuning to a radio signal that would rotate his compass card in the direction of the signal. The '50s brought a more sophisticated version, the VOR, or VHF omnidirectional range system. That instrument also homed into radio signals, even standard AM ones, and displayed arrows for the pilot to set course.

Later came LORAN, the long-range navigation system. Also radio based, it is used by pilots to determine position by tracking signals from two or more ground-based stations. Trouble was, the system was of little use to cross-country aviation, since LORAN was mainly used by ships and its stations were along the coast.

The real sea change in navigation came with the advent of GPS, a system created and owned by the U.S. Defense Department, which became fully operational in 1995. Pilots seized on the system, which uses satellites to pinpoint one's position to within feet.

Today GPS receivers are common among hikers, boaters, motorists and especially aviators. "It's easy to use - just hit the `Where the hell am I?' button," said Alan Rifkin, who from his Hadley, Mass., home operates a Web site that tracks interesting GPS landmarks.

"You can go anywhere in the world without getting lost," said Houghton.

Had Flight 19 been equipped with current technology, there would never be a monument to its passing at the Fort Lauderdale airport - and the myth of the Bermuda Triangle would have lost much of its oomph.

"With all the navigational systems we have aboard our aircraft today, I can't imagine ever being in a position where I didn't know where I was," said the Navy's Buckley.

But all that high-tech wizardry still requires one essential element: A human to tell it what to do. And humans are ever prone to mistakes.

"There's a lot of examples where people fly for years and years and one day they forget to do something," Baron said, "and that's what gets them in trouble."


Science Trumps Lore In Secrets

November 23, 2005

Nautical researcher David Bright, whose efforts to find an infamous missing plane in the Bermuda Triangle are chronicled in the upcoming SCI FI Channel investigative news special The Bermuda Triangle: Startling New Secrets, told SCI FI Wire that he did not go into the project with any preconceived notions about what he would or would not find. "Absolutely not," Bright said in an interview. "I think the beauty of what we were doing is because we all had varying backgrounds on the project. They all came into play. What we did is before we even went out we did a bit of what we call 'What if?' scenarios. So in order to get to that point, what we really needed to do was to essentially do an awful lot of research."

The special documents Bright's expedition—which included a team of more than 20 scientists and technological experts—as they searched for the truth behind the Bermuda Triangle's most famous incidents. In 1945, a squadron of bombers called Flight 19 was lost during a training mission off the coast of Florida. The rescue plane sent to find them a few hours later also disappeared. None of the planes has ever been found.

Based on all the scientific data currently available, Bright and his team used a methodical approach to finding the missing search plane. "We built in a scenario, or a search pattern, that was predicated on currents and tides and weather and taking also into account the fact that there could be certain scenarios where the ship exploded in midair and pieces would come down," Bright said. "Or the ship exploded as it hit the water after it came down. Or the fact that it may have hit the water and parts of it could have essentially blown up, but yet the remainder part of it could have gone on a little further with the tides. ... We came up with all these different scenarios and then developed search pattens based upon all of the different scenarios."

Bright would not reveal what his team uncovered during their seven days at sea, but he did say that he came away from the project satisfied. "What we were doing scientifically, especially with the game plan, was very strategically aligned with what we expected to see," he said. "And it actually worked out quite well for us. So, although I can't tell you what we found, I can tell you we were very excited about the science that we did out there, and that none of us would have done anything differently."

The Bermuda Triangle: Startling New Secrets airs Nov. 27 at 9 p.m. PT/ET. The special, from NBC News Productions, is hosted by NBC/MSNBC news anchor Lester Holt.


Lake Mead's sunken treasures to be protected from scuba diving thieves

By Chuck Frederick
November 16, 2005

Archaeologists and historial preservation groups worldwide are struggling to protect wrecks from infamous shipwreck looters such as Brad Sheard and Leigh Bishop who boast about their private collections of artifacts they claim to have "legally" stolen from shipwrecks around the world.

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The National Park Service is drafting a plan to protect cultural resources submerged below Lake Mead and public access to the often hidden treasures.
"We're talking about hundreds of sites that might be of interest to someone," said Dan Lenihan, who helped found the National Park Service's Submerged Resources Center in Santa Fe, N.M.

As water levels receded in recent years because of drought, some sites swallowed when Hoover Dam was constructed six decades ago are now in shallow water - or soon could be.

Others are above the surface, including an old cement tank in the Boulder Basin left over from the construction of the dam, and the abandoned St. Thomas town site near the lake's northern tip.

The cockpit of the B-29 bomber at the bottom of Lake Mead.
Divers in the area who want to see the wreck protected are
concerned it could be further damaged by scuba diving looters
who steal artifacts for private collections, bragging rights and
profits from eBay sales.

"They're physical touchstones to the past," said Lenihan, who retired in 2000 but still works part time with the Park Service's archaeological dive team.

Of the three options being considered for Lake Mead, park officials prefer the one that calls for managed recreational use and access to submerged sites.

The other options are unrestricted access to all sites, or making all sites off-limits to underwater explorers unless they are accompanied by a Park Service employee.

Dive shop owner Jay Gundy said he thinks most local divers will agree with the agency's preference.

"We certainly don't want to see them closed, but if you don't have managed access, the sites will be gone. It's been proven time and time again," Gundy said. "We like having that stuff down there. It's a reason to get in the lake."

The management plan evolved from a legal battle over a B-29 bomber that crashed and sank in Lake Mead's Overton Arm in 1948.

A federal court awarded the Park Service custody of the wreckage earlier this year, but the bomber has been looted and damaged in the five years since it was found, even though it is too deep to be reached by all but a small fraction of divers.

Inspecting engine #1, the only one still
attached to the plane.

Gundy, who has conducted about 350 dives in Lake Mead over the past 12 years, said many of the lake's sunken treasures can only be reached by "technical divers" who are trained and equipped to use mixed gases that allow them to descend below 130 feet.

"A lot of the history that's at the bottom of Lake Mead is along the old channel of the Colorado River, and those are the deepest parts of the lake," he said. "They're at 200 feet or better, well below the reach of a recreational diver."

Eventually, though, some of those sites could be within the reach of even the most casual divers, should the lake continue to shrink, Gundy said.

Public comments on the Park Service proposal will be accepted through Dec. 15. Officials said they hope to have a final management strategy in place by next spring.


Bomber wreckage beckons divers


By Henry Brean
October 10, 2005

National Park Service tries to protect B-29 from plundering, damage while still allowing access
After two years of litigation, the National Park Service has won its custody fight for a B-29 bomber that crashed and sank to the bottom of Lake Mead's Overton Arm in 1948.

Now the man who discovered the wreckage is calling on the agency's officials to do more to protect the aircraft before it is carted off or destroyed by unscrupulous divers.

Already, parts have been plundered and damage done to the B-29, said Gregg Mikolasek, the one-time Henderson dive instructor who led the team that found the wreckage in 2001.

"It's very discouraging," said Mikolasek, who returned to the aircraft during a dive permitted by the agency in May. "This wreck was pristine when we left it in 2002."

The service has launched an investigation into the damage and who might have caused it, said Roxanne Dey, spokeswoman for Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

"We will aggressively prosecute the people who are responsible. It's a priority for us," she said.

In the meantime, Dey said, park officials are working with "the local dive community" to brainstorm ways to better protect the sunken bomber.

The remote site poses a challenge for the agency, which lacks the resources to post someone there all of the time.

Dey said park officials rely on help from boaters, divers and other visitors to report any suspicious activity in the area.

To make that work, however, the park has marked a wide zone around the wreckage with buoys so visitors know where to look.

Some argue the buoys needlessly draw attention to the B-29.

Others argue that those who are plundering the wreck already know where it is, and the only way to stop them is to catch them in the act.

"I feel we're doing as much as humanly possible," Dey said. "We can't be there every minute of every day, and unfortunately there is a segment of the population that will engage in this kind of activity."

The agency currently prohibits diving and the use of anchors in a 14-square-mile area around the bomber without permission from the chief ranger for the park. That could change now that the court battle over the B-29 has ended.

In 2003, U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson blocked California-based Historical Aircraft Recovery Corp. from salvaging the bomber. Dawson ruled that the Park Service had not abandoned the wreckage.

Dawson's decision left the door open for the company to seek a "salvage award" from the federal government as compensation for finding the aircraft and "contributing to its rescue."

No financial reimbursement was ever sought by the company, and in May the judge granted a government motion to close the case. That move became official in mid-August when the deadline for appeal came and went.

"I don't have any intention of pursuing it any further," said Mikolasek, who transferred his rights to the wreckage to Historical Aircraft Recovery Corp. and had no direct involvement in the custody fight.

"I just hope the management will improve to actually preserve the site ... and allow for future exploration by responsible divers," Mikolasek said.

Recreation Area Superintendant William K. Dickinson promised as much in a statement released by the park a week ago.

"Now that the court case is over, we will continue to meet with members of the local dive community to work collaboratively on a management plan that will allow the public to experience the site while protecting it for future generations as part of a comprehensive site stewardship plan," Dickinson said in the statement.

"We are moving forward to open the site to permitted diving as soon as possible."

On July 21, 1948, the B-29 Superfortress crashed while on a high-altitude, atmospheric research mission.

Three of the four engines tore off when the 99-foot aircraft hit the water and skipped like a stone for more than a quarter of a mile.

The plane's pilot, Capt. Robert Madison, scientist John Simeroth and three others escaped through cockpit hatches as the B-29 submerged in 12 minutes.

The aircraft was lost in the cold, dark water of the lake until a team of local divers found it again in 2001.

Barring an enormous drop in the water level at Lake Mead, the B-29 should remain out of reach of recreational divers.

It currently rests in about 170 feet of open water.

"It's still an advanced dive," Mikolasek said. "It can best be described as cold, dark, deep and scary."

Dey said that is exactly why permits will be required once the service opens the wreck to diving: to make sure those allowed to explore the wreck are qualified to do so.

Dey said there also has been talk of building a floating dive platform above the aircraft.

Now the plan calls for the installation of moorings at the site, however, so boats have something to tie onto during dive operations.

Park officials could not say when the moorings might be built or the first permits issued to divers wanting to explore the wreckage.

Dey hopes it happens soon.

"We get several requests a week from people who want to dive the B-29," she said.

"The park service doesn't like to keep people away from resources. But we want to make sure we have a plan in place for stewardship of the B-29 first."


B-25 WWII plane retrieved from depths of Lake Murray


Columbia Star
By Bill Vartorella
September 16, 2005

A model of the B-25 was created to assist
in the recovery.

Sixty–two years after plunging into Lake Murray, one of the last remaining Army Air Corps war planes has been rescued from 150 feet beneath the lake’s surface.

According to the expedition’s leader, Dr. Robert Seigler, the retrieval of the now rare B–25C bomber took several days. Divers worked on mixed gases, at depth, to attach special straps on the aircraft.

The technical team is being led by internationally–known aviation salver, Gary Larkins, who expects the entire operation (which includes the spray–down and disassembly of the aircraft) to take about two weeks. Larkins disassembled, rigged, and raised a P–38 Lightning from beneath 270 feet of a Greenland ice cap several years ago. He is regarded as the premier salver of historic airplanes, with some 68 to his credit worldwide.

Seigler, who has written a history of the Lake Murray B–25s for Warbirds International , has spent two decades researching, locating, videotaping, and securing sidescan radar images of the aircraft. Divers have been quietly examining and documenting the airplane for the past several years in preparation for the retrieval.

The final day of the airplane is well–known. After flying out of the Columbia Army Air Base on April 4, 1943, the now–rare B–25C Bomber crashed and sank in the man–made lake during a skip–bombing training mission. The military crew escaped the aircraft, which had lost power, and brought it to rest upright, with damage to only the right engine. The crew survived and were rescued.

The US Army Air Corps was unable to salvage the aircraft during WWII because of water depth. It was finally located in 1990, virtually intact, under silt.

During the past decade, Seigler, head of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Greenville Hospital System, and John Adams Hodge, an aviation and environmental attorney at Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, P.A. in Columbia, have dedicated time, energy, and resources to the effort.

William “Bill” Vartorella, Ph.D. of Camden has helped guide the project. His firm, Craig and Vartorella, Inc. has been involved in exotic projects worldwide in the fields of archaeology, motor sports, and history.

The Seigler–Hodge– Vartorella team has continuously sought support in SC and the region from philanthropic foundations, state legislators, museum and airport officials, and corporations as they searched for a permanent site to house the vintage plane.

However, no SC venues were prepared to preserve such an aircraft in an indoor setting that met the need for painstaking restoration and ongoing public interpretation.

The project has received recognition by The Explorers Club and is designated as an Explorers Flag Expedition. The Explorers Club flag will be flown at the site. Seigler, Hodge, and Vartorella are members of the Greater Piedmont Chapter of the Explorers Club. Vartorella is a past chair of the club.

With a commitment to keeping the airplane in the South, Seigler’s nonprofit Lake Murray B–25 Rescue Project (501–c–3) has found an appropriate home for the airplane at the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Alabama. There, the plane will be restored, conserved, and displayed in its public museum.

Hodge, an attorney, registered geologist, and airline pilot, and Seigler and Vartorella have collaborated with SCE&G, the SC Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, the US military, historians, and numerous others to prepare for the final stages of this quest.

The upcoming retrieval has not been announced previously due to curiosity–seekers who might disturb the plane’s safe resting area.

The heroism of the pilot, who is deceased, prevented the aircraft’s loss of life. One of the crewmen who escaped is still alive and lives on the West Coast. Due to his health, he may not be able to attend; however, his family may send a representative.

Hodge said, “This is about preserving our history and heritage. The aircraft is WWII authentic as it has only been seen by a handful of people since it sank more than 60 years ago. It is in incredibly good shape. Dr. Seigler has expended countless hours and dollars to preserve our history, and I hope South Carolinians will assist him in this noble project.”

According to Vartorella, donations and in–kind contributions to help defray the estimated retrieval costs of $150,000 are appreciated. “We’ve had some excellent past support from the Arcadia Foundation, and companies such as Boozer Lumber have stepped up recently, as well as anonymous individual donors,” he said. “This project is likely to get global coverage and this is an excellent opportunity for companies and individuals to let the world know that SC is committed to its heritage and, frankly, is a great place to live and do business.”

For additional information, contact the nonprofit Lake Murray B–25 Rescue Project, 106 Highland Drive, Greenville, SC 29605 or Bill Vartorella at (803) 432–4353.


Sunken Navy plane found after 60 years in Clear Lake

September 02, 2005

NEWELL, Calif. - A dive team has found a Navy plane that crashed into Clear Lake more than 60 years ago.
After a search that lasted for two years, several pieces of the torpedo bomber from World War-Two were pulled from the lake Wednesday.
The T-B-F-One Avenger crashed into Clear Lake during a training mission in December of 1944, killing the pilot and radioman on board.
The cause of the crash was never determined.
During the search, crews combed the area where witnesses to the crash said the plane had sunk and located a debris field that's about two-thousand feet wide.


Divers Recover Plane That Crashed in 1958


AP Wire
August 13, 2005

Divers on Saturday recovered a single engine military plane that crashed into Green Lake during fog nearly 47 years ago, killing a Minnesota National Guard pilot.

More than 50 boats filled with curious spectators circled the site where the recovery operation was taking place, and dozens of people lined the shoreline nearly a mile way for the chance to watch as the Cessna L-19 "Birddog" was pulled from water 40 feet deep.

The daylong recovery effort included volunteers with the Kandiyohi County dive team, Emergency Support Services Association and the Midwest Technical Rescue Training Association, both of Minneapolis.

"Actually, things went excellent," said Mike Roe, recently retired water patrol director with the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's office who oversaw the operations.

Divers used a large winch mounted on a pontoon boat to hoist the airplane from the bottom. They kept the aircraft submerged below a second pontoon boat which they used to tow it to shore.

The crash on Oct. 14, 1958, took the life of Captain Richard P. Carey, 36, who was returning to the Willmar airfield from Rochester when his plane went down at 12:30 a.m.

Along with recovering the plane, divers were able to retrieve some of the items carried by Carey, along with the flight log, parachutes and headphones.

Carey had been in radio contact with the Willmar air field and warned about the foggy conditions, but said he was low on fuel and needed to land.

In his last radio call, he reported that he hit something, later believed to have been seagulls. His body was recovered 13 days later.

After that, countless unsuccessful searches for the plane were made. The plane was discovered by accident on July 4, 2004 by Corey Fladeboe of Willmar and Brett Almquist of Maple Lake as they scanned the bottom with an underwater camera is search of walleyes.

The Spicer American Legion Post and the City of Spicer are planning to restore the airplane and place it on permanent display as a memorial to its pilot and all of those who have served in the Armed Forces, said Spicer Mayor Bill Taylor.


Ghost Ship


Monterey County Weekly
By Ryan Masters
August 04, 2005

Macon History: Unfortunately, the legacy of the USS Macon
and its rigid airship siblings is one of disaster and tragedy.
Monterey History and Art Association.

More than a half a century ago, the US’s largest dirigible sunk off the Big Sur coast. In the fall, researchers will attempt to photograph the wreck.

“SOS—falling,” the radioman coolly typed.

Without a sound, the great airship fell slowly out of the clouds and towards the cold green sea and jagged cliffs of Big Sur.

“Let go all ballast and ship tanks aft of midships,” Lt. Cmdr. Herbert V. Wiley ordered from the control car, which hung beneath the dirigible’s huge helium-filled belly. “Slow all engines.”

Most of the crew’s 83 officers and men scrambled through the 785-foot silver air cruiser’s internal cavern of girders, cables and catwalks, dumping fuel and ballast, and preparing for the worst.

Commander Wiley glanced down at the white-capped sea below, where a wave of unpleasant memories surfaced. He forced himself to focus. The ship’s tail was still sinking towards the ocean, but now the vessel seemed to be gathering altitude thanks to the quick work of his men.

Perhaps they would still be able to limp back to the barn at Moffett Field, near Mountain View, after all.

A whistle sounded in the voice tube and Wiley’s right-hand man, Lt. E.K. Van Swearingen, retrieved the message. It was a full damage report. The top stabilizing fin had been completely torn free—only the rudder was standing now. As a result, the number one cell was deflated and numbers zero and two were rapidly following suit.

Wiley knew it was the end. The USS Macon, the nation’s largest rigid airship, was doomed.He ordered the vessel to be turned away from the sharp marine terraces of Big Sur and out to sea, towards the rescue ships that were closing in on his distress signals. Despite his tragic history, he was going to opt for the water landing.

Two years earlier, in 1933, Wiley had been serving aboard the USS Akron when the rigid dirigible had crashed in a storm off the New Jersey coast. The disaster had killed 78 of 81 men, including Admiral William Moffett, the father of Naval aviation. The only surviving officer of the Akron, Wiley was determined to avoid a similar tragedy by performing a controlled crash into the sea.

He ordered the crew to begin preparing to abandon ship. Throughout the mortally-wounded airship, the men leapt to it: unpacking rubber life rafts, opening hatches, cutting holes in the silver outer cover of the airship, and rigging lines to lower away.

The ship fell from the darkening sky at 600 feet per minute. It was 5:30pm on February 12, 1935. Soon, it would be night. To make matters worse, a storm had blown in, rain was falling and a significant northwest swell was chopping the frigid sea up into a frenzy below. Yet these were Navy seamen and a plunge into the cold, dark sea was part of the job.

The USS Macon had left its base at Moffett Field the day before to reconnoiter with the Pacific Fleet off the Southern California coast for training maneuvers. Eager to prove the embattled airship program’s versatility and effectiveness, Navy officials had performed a slapdash repair job on two tail fins which had sustained damage on the previous mission.

More modern and slightly faster than the Akron, her doomed sister ship, the Macon had a top speed of about 87 miles per hour and had cost $2.5 million to build in 1933. She had a stronger, improved internal design, which consisted of a hollow steel hull with three interior keels.

This strong internal spine was a direct result of another airship tragedy. In 1925, the USS Shenandoah had failed spectacularly by breaking in half over an Ohio valley and killing 14 crew members. As the Navy’s inaugural rigid airship, the Shenandoah proved to be just the first in a decade-long series of dirigible disasters.

As a result of this tremendously spotted history, the Navy’s rigid airship program had a great many detractors. Most considered the giant dirigibles to be too unwieldy, expensive and unreliable. The USS Macon was supposed to change that perception.

Kept aloft by non-flammable helium contained in 12 large, gelatin-latex cells, the Macon was considered faster and safer than her predecessors. Inside the hull, the ship had eight large 560-horsepower engines, which drove external propellers.Amazingly, the Macon also carried its own protection—six Sparrowhawk fighter biplanes that the dirigible stored in its belly. The airplanes were slowly lowered on a trapeze and harness through a T-shaped hole in the dirigible’s underside. The pilots simply revved up their RPMs, yanked a release lever and dropped into the air in mid-flight.

Retrieving the planes, however, was a wild and white-knuckled ordeal. Each Sparrowhawk had a hook welded to its upper wing. The pilots had to match their speed to that of the dirigible and then gently set the tiny hook back on to the trapeze. The harness would then be attached to the fuselage, and the aircraft would be hoisted back up into the dirigible.

These daredevil pilots, known as “the men on the flying trapeze,” boasted a flawless record on both the Akron and the Macon. Unfortunately, the dirigibles themselves were quite a bit more accident prone.Lt. Cmdr. Wiley and the USS Macon were returning from their successful maneuvers with the Pacific Fleet when they encountered severe storm winds off Point Sur.

A few minutes after 5pm, the great airship lurched sickeningly to port and then rolled slightly back towards starboard. The ship dove slightly, turned to starboard again and then stabilized. A crosswind had struck the ship with such force that the upper fins of the previously damaged tail were completely severed, sending shards of metal into the rear gas cells.

Wiley learned the extent of the damage and ordered all hands to abandon ship as the dirigible drifted slowly down through the cold, hard rain and into the ocean. As she came down, the Macon’s nose was inclined up between five and 10 degrees, plunging the lower fin into the water first.

In the nose, still 100 feet above the surface of the water, Radioman 1st class Ernest Dailey was panicking. He looked down at the dark stormy seas through a hole he’d cut in the shiny outer material of the dirigible, then without warning, leaped into the void. Witnesses say he did a flip in the air and landed on his back in the water below, never to be seen again.

As the airship began to settle into the water, the rest of the crew methodically abandoned her.

They shimmied down lines or leapt into the water and boarded the rubber life rafts which dotted the dark seas around the dying dirigible.

Only one crewman, a Filipino mess steward named Florentino Edquiba, refused to abandon ship.

According to reports, he was last seen trying to scramble up the material of the airship, perhaps looking for another way down. Like Dailey, he was never seen again.

Thankfully, the crew could already see the spotlights of rescue ships slicing through the dark rain. Within an hour the USS Richmond was on the scene, plucking survivors out of the water. In the end, Wiley did, in fact, manage to avoid another Akron disaster.

Of his 83 men, only Dailey and Edquiba lost their lives.Although Wiley and his crew didn’t know it at the time, the US Navy’s entire rigid airship program sank with the Macon into oblivion that night. The crash effectively marked the end of the military’s romance with long-range dirigibles.

More than half a century later, Wiley’s daughter was eating in a Moss Landing restaurant when she recognized a small piece of a rigid airship’s structural girder hanging on the wall. Beside it someone had hung an article about the crash of the USS Macon.

When she asked the owner of the restaurant where he’d gotten it, the man was cagey and less than forthcoming. It was a secret, he said. Yet after some explanation of the artifact’s personal significance, the restaurateur coughed up the name of fisherman who’d recently retired and moved to Richmond.

David Canepa had a magic fishing spot down in Big Sur. It couldn’t miss. And he thought he knew why. In addition to big rock cod, Canepa was also pulling up weird pieces of wreckage.

There was something down there. Some big wreck, which had long ago formed an artificial reef and spawned lots of marine life.

Canepa had discovered the final resting spot of the USS Macon in 1,500 feet of water. But he was loathe to give up the numbers on his prime fishing spot, so he kept the coordinates secret and, instead, gave away the odd pieces of wreckage to his friends as gifts.

Long retired from fishing but still curious about the Macon, Canepa agreed to show scientists from the Monterey Bay Research Institute (MBARI) where the airship rested.

Because of the wreck’s bone-crushing depth, however, a traditional salvage operation was impossible. When the Navy became interested in recovering one of the rare Sparrowhawks, they called on MBARI to help them. So in 1990 and 1991, the Navy and MBARI teamed up to explore and document the crash site, sending first a manned vehicle and then an unmanned remotely operated vehicle (ROV), Ventana, down to photograph the site and to capture some of the wreckage with its robotic arm.

After the initial survey, Navy officials concluded any recovery of the Sparrowhawks would be impossible. Regardless, the expedition dredged up stunning images of the wreckage, including pictures of the intact—if green and ghostly—Sparrowhawks surrounded by huge, brightly colored fish.

The Macon had been rediscovered, but 15 years more years would pass before another significant research effort could be mounted.

In May, a team of researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP), the US Geological Survey (USGS), Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) joined forces to further map the debris fields associated with the wreck site. Building upon information gathered by the US Navy and MBARI’s expeditions in 1990 and ‘91, the researchers generated a new map that not only documents the extent of the primary debris fields but also suggests the existence of a debris trail not previously recorded. The ongoing research efforts are currently on display at the Monterey Maritime Museum.

The research marked the fruits of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s first maritime heritage cruise within the sanctuary’s boundaries, and represents the first phase of a two-phase research effort to inventory and characterize the USS Macon’s wreck site. Phase II is slated for fall 2006. It will consist of photo documentation using an ROV. Ultimately, the researchers want to create a detailed photo mosaic of the wreck.

Like a whistle through the voice tube of history, the rediscovery of the USS Macon provides a fascinating and mysterious sounding of America’s short-lived love affair with the long-range rigid airship. As the final exclamation point on a romantic era of aviation history, the Macon is both a rich cultural heritage site and a solemn memorial to the men who lost their lives flying these magnificent airships.