Mud delays efforts to pull rare World War II dive bomber from Southern Calif. reservoirBy Julie Watson, AP
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Mud delays efforts to extract WWII plane from lake
SAN DIEGO — Divers worked through the day Thursday to extract a rare World War II dive bomber from the bottom of a reservoir but were unable to finish removing thick silt and mud from the plane to enable it to be lifted out of the water.
Former Army ranger Tara Lysenko, who is assisting in the salvage operation, said divers would resume efforts on Friday to lift the SB2C Helldiver, one of only a handful still in existence.
Relatives of the two-man crew had been waiting at the reservoir’s edge to see the plane that crashed there in 1945 after the engine failed during a training exercise.
Bob Metz, 84, who watched the painstaking work, said he recalls his oldest brother, Sgt. Joseph Metz, telling about how he and the pilot — who have both since died — managed to swim ashore to safety, then hitchhiked back to the nearby military base.
“I remember when he got a jeep and brought me up here and told me, ‘You want to see where we ditched the plane?’” said Metz of Montebello, Calif.
The aircraft was forgotten until Duane Johnson and his friend, who were searching for bass, spotted the outline of the plane on an electronic fish finder last year.
“We were dumbfounded,” Johnson recounted Thursday as he stood at the reservoir’s edge next to Metz. “We didn’t know if there were bodies down there or if it was something simple like a remote-controlled plane.”
Johnson later learned he had discovered the Helldiver, which crashed May 28, 1945.
If it can be restored, the National Naval Aviation Museum hopes the plane will fill a void in its collection in Pensacola, Fla., considered to be one of the world’s largest displays of naval aviation history with more than 150 planes.
“We’ve been looking for a Helldiver for quite some time,” said Navy Capt. Ed Ellis, of the museum.
Only a handful of the 5,100 dive bombers manufactured during World War II still exist. One of the Helldiver’s nicknames was the “Beast” because of its reputation for being difficult to handle.
“At the end of the war, they were obsolete and so they just chopped them down, melted them and made most of them into tin cans,” Ellis said. “It wasn’t a particularly good airplane.”
The aircraft was plagued by problems from the start, with the first prototype crashing in February 1941. The second went down as well when it was pulling out of a dive.
San Diego shut down the Lower Otay Reservoir to the public during this week’s salvage operation.
Lysenko, who has rescued 33 planes for the museum, said divers have been working with zero visibility while they prepare the plane to be lifted carefully out of the water without further damaging it.
Crews also kept an eye out for anything bubbling to the surface that could indicate oil or fuel was leaking out and contaminating the city’s drinking water.
A city diver was being examined Thursday after running out of air, but appeared to be fine, Lysenko said.
A former volunteer at the museum left money to cover the cost of the plane’s extraction, Ellis said. The museum only salvages planes in which the crew survived. If anyone died, the site is considered to be a grave and isn’t touched, he said.
The museum has located hundreds of submerged aircraft, mostly in Lake Michigan and some oceans.
“This is always an exciting event. Some aircraft have been pulled up and we’ve found the batteries still hold a charge, or there is still water in the canteen left by the pilots in the cockpit, or some of the lights still work,” Ellis said. “We’re always amazed by what still works and is in good condition.”
Tags: California, Leisure Travel, Museums, North America, Recreation And Leisure, San Diego, United States