Submerged Helldiver Step Closer to Flying Again

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Salvagers have won permission to recover a World War II Navy dive bomber that has rested on the bottom of a San Diego reservoir for more than six decades.

          City and state permits have been obtained for a $125,000 operation to bring up the SB2C-4 Helldiver from Lower Otay Reservoir, said Nelson Manville, a city assistant lakes manager.
         
    The work could begin within a few weeks, with the goal of eventually displaying the plane in the National Naval Aviation Museum in Florida.
         
    "We're just waiting for the recovery team and museum to give us a date," Manville told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "This is drinking water, so a lot is going into this because we're going to have to shut the lake down from the system."
         
    Divers with Chicago-based salvage firm A&T Recovery examined the plane last year and will have to dredge silt from around the aircraft to see whether it can be recovered.

    Deep Yields Sunken Helldiver's Secrets

    [DGO] Deep Yields Sunken Helldiver's Secrets
    A salvage team takes a closer look at a World War II plane found 85 feet below the surface by an angler using a fish finder. (Published Friday, Jul 24, 2009)

    Underwater video taken at the time shows a sliding canopy, with its windows covered in mud. A closer look reveals instruments and flight controls in the cockpit, and a few feet away are the skeletal remains of a rudder.
         
    The Helldiver had taken off from an aircraft carrier and was on a training run when its engine failed and the pilot ditched on May 28, 1945. The pilot and gunner swam to shore, and the Navy decided to leave the bomber at the bottom of the lake.
         
    It was forgotten until March 2009, when a bass fisherman Duane Johnson, who was using an electronic fish finder, spotted its outline in 85 feet of water.
         
    There are only a half-dozen or less Helldivers left in existence, retired Capt. Robert L. Rasmussen, the museum's director, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
         
    "No matter how you cut it, they are very rare, and we don't have one in our collection," he said. "We've got nearly everything else that's significant to Naval aviation."

    Johnson said last year that he thought the plane should stay in San Diego so all of his fishing friends could see the biggest catch of his life.

    Deep Yields Sunken Helldiver's Secrets

    [DGO] Deep Yields Sunken Helldiver's Secrets
    A salvage team takes a closer look at a World War II plane found 85 feet below the surface by an angler using a fish finder. (Published Friday, Jul 24, 2009)

    "I could be the guy who can look up at the ceiling and say I found that plane underwater," Johnson said at the time.
        
    Rasmussen said the submerged Helldiver's value was not diminished, even though it never saw combat.
         
    "It's a genuine article, and the fact that it's been sitting on the bottom of Lake Otay for the last 65 years without being touched is historically important to us all by itself, because we've found that these aircraft, even though they have been under water, usually are fairly well preserved," he said.
         
    Navy pilot E.D. Frazar of Texas and Army gunner Joseph Metz of Ohio have since died, but relatives told the Union-Tribune they supported salvage efforts.
         
    "As a retired Marine, I have a deep understanding of the significance of these things to veterans and patriots of all generations," said Richard Ansel Frazar of Texas, son of the pilot. "Wouldn't it be amazing to watch it being pulled up, or to actually have it restored to flying condition, and I could sit in my father's pilot seat and take the plane up?"