WWII fighter plane recovered from lake

December 1, 2009 11:41:35 AM PST
A historic war plane was pulled from the waters of Lake Michigan. On Monday, the Navy recovered a World War II F6F3 Hellcat fighter plane near Waukegan.

This is the latest in a series of historic recoveries from the lake.

For the first time in more than 60 years, the F6F3 Hellcat fighter is seeing the light of the day.

Hunter Browley, whose grandfather Lieutenant Walter Elcock piloted the plane when it went into Lake Michigan, was given the honor of sitting in the cockpit.

"It brought up a lot of emotion. I thought about what he thought about during the crash. I also thought about what he did at the time and how brave he was to do it," said Browley.

Browley's grandfather is still alive today but barely survived the crash back in 1945.

"His tail caught the fourth wire, which is the last one it could catch. His wing broke on the cat walk. So he hung over the side of the plane for about 10 minutes until his wire snapped and he went into the frozen lake," said Browley.

After breaking through the ice his grandfather was plucked from the frigid waters by the Coast Guard.

Hundreds of Hellcats crashed during training runs including one piloted by Chet Tobolski.

"I put one in the drink, in the Atlantic. It had an engine failure," said Tobolski.

Salvaging the plane was a major undertaking. The fighter was at the bottom of Lake Michigan in 250 feet of water but was still pretty well preserved.

"Basically, an underwater robot that does a lot of work and it attaches the lifting rigging, which is a trade secret rigging, and we lift it basically to the surface and then we tow it just below the surface to the harbor," said Taras Lyssenko, A & T Recovery.

The process started early last week and was completed Monday.

The recovery never would have happened if not for funding by the Enterprise Rent-A-Car company whose founder had a special tie to World War II Navy pilots.

"Our company is named after the U.S.S. Enterprise that served in World War II. My father served aboard that carrier and also the U.S.S. Essex. It was a hellcat fighter," said Andrew Taylor, CEO Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

The cost of recovering the plane has not been disclosed but the most expensive steps are yet to come. It will be disassembled and shipped to Pensacola, Florida where it will be put on display at the National Aviation Museum.

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