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.