Battle Begins Over Sunken Helldiver

A salvage team took a closer look at a plane found by an angler

The fight has started over who gets to keep an incredibly rare Navy bomber that was found resting at the bottom of the Lower Otay Reservoir. 

The SB2C-4 Helldiver, which played an important role for the U.S. during World War II, has been submerged in murky water 85 feet below the surface for more than 60 years.

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.

The Helldiver crash landed in the reservoir during a training mission on May 28, 1945. Decades later, Duane Johnson found it after he spotted a strange image on his fish finder.

"One of the jokes that keeps coming up is that I'm finding airplanes, so I must me doing something wrong," he said laughing.

The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., has the rights to the Helldiver, so if and when it's restored, it could end up there.

"There are only maybe two or three other ones 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."

Johnson also thinks the Helldiver should stay in San Diego so all of his fishing friends could always see the biggest catch of his life.

"I could be the guy who can look up at the ceiling and say I found that plane underwater," Johnson said.

Kidrick is already talking to museum officials in Florida and said there is a good chance the plane will stay in San Diego, but it could take years to restore.

Contact Us