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.



Blogger The REAL Truth! said...

Follow up to this story!


10:22 PM  

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