WWII-era dive bomber pulled from Lake Michigan

 
 
  • Submerged for nearly 60 years, a World War II era Douglas SBD Dauntless bomber was recovered from Lake Michigan near Waukegan on Friday. The plane will be restored and displayed at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, LA.

    Submerged for nearly 60 years, a World War II era Douglas SBD Dauntless bomber was recovered from Lake Michigan near Waukegan on Friday. The plane will be restored and displayed at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, LA. Vincent Pierri | Staff Photographer

  • The U.S. Navy plane came in for its final landing at Larsen Marine in Waukegan.

    The U.S. Navy plane came in for its final landing at Larsen Marine in Waukegan. Vincent Pierri | Staff Photographer

  • The plane was well preserved but covered with Zebra Mussels.

    The plane was well preserved but covered with Zebra Mussels. Vincent Pierri | Staff Photographer

  • Extra care was needed to ensure the plane wouldn't break apart as it was lifted by a crane. The work was done by A & T Recovery in Chicago.

    Extra care was needed to ensure the plane wouldn't break apart as it was lifted by a crane. The work was done by A & T Recovery in Chicago. Vincent Pierri | Staff Photographer

Published: 4/24/2009 11:28 AM | Updated: 4/25/2009 12:12 AM

Encrusted with zebra mussels, the dive bomber that Joseph Lokites ditched into Lake Michigan on that cold Nov. 24, 1944 was pulled out of the water Friday morning.

Despite a bent propeller and a twisted right wing, the Douglas SBD Dauntless U.S. Navy plane was in relatively good condition after resting on the bottom of the cold waters of Lake Michigan for more than 60 years.

Out on a training flight, Lokites was making a routine approach to the aircraft carrier when a faulty fuel switch killed his engine, according to historians at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla. The plane plummeted into the icy water and Lokites was quickly rescued and unharmed.

The Dauntless pulled out of Lake Michigan Friday morning will be restored and eventually go on display at National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Capt. Ed Ellis, secretary of the foundation that supports the National Naval Aviation Museum said many planes training in that era had flown from a pair of old paddle wheel steamers decked out as practice aircraft carriers.

Ellis said more than 17,000 pilots trained out of the former Naval Air Station in Glenview. Each needed to make about eight takeoffs and landings on the USS Wolverine or USS Sable to qualify for carrier duty.

The ships were built as multideck paddle wheel cargo and excursion boats. Ellis said authorities "cut the top decks off and put 600-foot decks on them" to allow training.

German U-boat sightings off the East Coast made training there too risky. Located in the safety of the country's heartland, Lake Michigan proved to be a safe practice site.

On Friday, former Navy pilot Grant C. Young drove 150 miles from his home in Lanark, IL to watch the recovery at Larsen Marine in Waukegan.

"This is a wonderful thing to see," Young, 85, said. "It brings back a lot of memories."

Young can relate to the mishap. He also crashed during training. "I didn't get hurt but nearly froze waiting for the Coast Guard to pick me up," he said.

The Douglas SBD Dauntless is among 130 to 300 or more planes estimated to have sunk in the lake during training late in World War II.

The Dauntless dive bombers are largely credited with winning the Battle of Midway and turning the tide of the Pacific war in the Allies' favor. It was the plane flown by future U.S. President George H. W. Bush.

Taras Lyssenko, co-owner of A&T Recovery, said the plane was found in the mid 1990s in more than 300 feet of water, more than 20 miles offshore. He said it took years to obtain Navy permission and secure state and federal permits to mount a recovery.

Because the plane was so deep, submarine robots were called in to survey the area - and, in recent weeks, to set up ropes used to lift the plane to the surface for towing.

He described the salvage as far more delicate than recovering a ship.

"Ships have all kinds of things you can put chains on. You can't put a chain on this," he said. And it must be lifted very gently. Otherwise, mud-filled wings might get ripped off.

"This latest recovery is one important link in the preservation of the history and heritage of naval aviation in the Chicago area ... and its unique and invaluable contribution to naval aviation during the war," said U.S. Navy (Ret.) Capt. Robert Rasmussen.

Rasmussen would not divulge the cost of the project, but said the money came entirely from private donors.