WWII-era plane pulled from Lake Michigan

April 24, 2009 4:31:07 PM PDT
A WWII aircraft was brought to the surface Friday after 60 years at the bottom of Lake Michigan. VIDEO: ABC7 reporter Ben Bradley shot BlackBerry video of the plane hoisted out of the lake

An SBD Dauntless dive bomber that was lost during training exercises over the lake during World War II was pulled out in Waukegan.

Pilots of those planes played a critical role in helping American forces win the Battle of Midway.

Inch by inch a piece of history emerged from a 60 year slumber in Lake Michigan, and veterans Chuck Downey and Grant Young didn't want to miss this moment.

As the Dauntless dive bomber shrugged off its watery confines, memories came rushing back.

"One of the pet names was 'Stable Mable' for that airplane," Young, a retired Navy captain, said.

It's a flattering nickname for a plane that deposited Young-- and countless other young aviators--in the lake all those years ago.

"I actually stalled the airplane so when it quit flying, it fell straight down. Bam!" Young said.

More than 17,000 pilots completed their aircraft carrier qualification training on Lake Michigan in the 1940s. Today, it's estimated 60 or so of their planes still remain at the bottom of the lake.

That's where divers from A&T Recovery found this one: 27 miles out from Waukegan and 315 feet down.

When they pulled it up today, zebra mussels coated some surfaces but the plane was remarkably in tact. The propeller is a bit bent, but both wings are still attached, and the U.S. Navy markings have only lost a bit of their color.

The man running the salvage operation says he does it so younger generations will learn about the greatest generation.

"I'll ask 'em who fought in WWII? They'll say some guy named Hitler. They don't have any clue that it was about protecting their freedoms and the world's freedoms forever, that's the pay-off," Taras Lyssenko, of A&T Recovery, said.

For those who remember planes like this one filling the skies as Americans fought in a world war, Friday's rescue of a Dauntless is a reminder of the simple thoughts that carried them through their training and combat missions.

"My wedding invitations had been mailed out. I couldn't mess up there!" Young said. "He had other important things to do!" Downey added.

The plane is going to be taken to New Orleans for restoration before being put on display at the National World War II Museum.

A similar aircraft, also pulled from Lake Michigan, hangs in the passenger terminal at Midway Airport.


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