Helldiver Raised from the Deep

There are believed to be only two or three others like it in the world

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A rare World War II plane that has been sitting at the bottom of Lower Otay Reservoir for more than 65 years is coming up for air. The Navy SB2C-4 Helldiver is about 90 feet below the surface of the lake in the southern portion of San Diego County.

    A rare World War II plane that has been sitting at the bottom of Lower Otay Reservoir for more than 65 years is coming up for air.

    The Navy SB2C-4 Helldiver is about 90 feet below the surface of the lake in the southern portion of San Diego County.

    Duane Johnson was out on his boat  looking for bass when he noticed a strange object on his fish finder.

    "We saw what looked like a two by four or something... something wasn't right," Johnson said. "As I'm looking at the picture more I see a tail on it."

    That was February 2009. Johnson sent photos of the plane to the FAA and they started an investigation. Experts from all over the country have weighed in over the last year and a half and now, the plane is expected to be brought to the surface Thursday.

    Underwater video shows a sliding canopy, with its windows covered in mud. If you look even closer, you can make out the instruments and flight controls in the cockpit and a few feet away; you can see the skeletal remains of a rudder.

    On Tuesday, divers with A&T Recovery and the city of San Diego ranger-divers worked to uncover the plane.
     
    “It's fragile," said diver Mark Miller. "We don’t really know what the structure is like, if it's going to break apart so we need to take off as much weight as possible.”

    The story behind the ditched plane is almost as interesting as the recovery process.

    E.D. Frazar was forced to ditch the Helldiver in Lower Otay Lake on May 28, 1945 when the engine failed. He and Army gunner Joseph Metz swam safely to shore.

    "When they were coming in over the lake, they were on a target run and the engine blew up, so they had to ditch because they weren't high enough to bail out," according to Joseph Metz' son Jim.
     
    Dick Frazar, the pilot’s son,  flew his own single-engine plane from Texas to witness the event. “It's not about my dad, it's about the heritage and the legacy of our country. The fact that the aircraft is being recovered is really cool.”

    The plane is rare in that there are only "maybe two or three others in the world today," San Diego Air and Space Museum CEO Jim Kidrick said. "We have over 200 volunteers who would work on that plane as a labor of love and literally make that airplane brand new."

    It will eventually be cleaned and restored and taken to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. 

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