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Sat, Nov 28, 2009

Hellcat To Be Recovered From Lake Michigan

Michigan Historic Preservation Office and MSHDA Announce Recovery Effort

Weather permitting on Monday, November 30, a World War II, F6F-3 Hellcat fighter plane will be raised from the depths of Lake Michigan off the Chicago shoreline. The plane has rested on the lake bottom for more than sixty years after crashing during a training exercise.

During the war, navy pilots trained to land on aircraft carriers in Lake Michigan before seeing active duty. The "aircraft carriers" used for training were in fact old Great Lakes passenger liners modified with wooden landing decks. The vessels docked at Chicago's Navy Pier, and the pilots left from the Glenview Naval Air Station in Glenview, Illinois. This airplane, an F6F-3 Hellcat Fighter (serial number 25910), was among many that crashed in the lake during aircraft carrier qualification training. The airplane was lost in about 250 feet of water on January 5, 1945. The pilot, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Walter B. Elcock, was attempting to land aboard the USS Sable during training. Lieutenant Elcock survived the crash and presently lives in Atlanta, Georgia. More than 17,000 pilots completed the training at Glenview, including former president, and then-Lieutenant (Junior Grade) George H. W. Bush.

Prior to the activities on Lake Michigan, this particular Hellcat served with Fighter Squadron VF-38 at Guadalcanal in 1943.

The U.S. Navy is leading the recovery, which is being sponsored by Enterprise Rent-a-Car and donations by its CEO, Andy Taylor. Taylor is acting in honor of his father, Jack Taylor, who founded Enterprise and named it for the most decorated aircraft carrier in American history, USS Enterprise, CV-6. The National Naval Aviation Museum, in coordination with the Naval History and Heritage Command, the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, and the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, will complete the recovery portion of the effort this week using a crew from A. and T. Recovery. Following the recovery the plane will be stabilized and reworked for eventual exhibit.

Before the recovery could occur, much coordination and consultation took place between the Navy and the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office (MSHPO), part of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Federal law requires that state historic preservation offices review and comment on all federally funded or licensed activities to determine the activity's potential for impact on historic resources -- above-ground, underground, or underwater.

"These planes tell the relatively unknown story of the Great Lakes region's role in training pilots during WWII," stated Michigan State Historic Preservation Officer Brian Conway. "Our general preference is to preserve the plane in place on the lake bottom as part of that story. We recognize, however, that there is a public benefit to be gained from recovery, stabilization, and exhibition of this plane. This is the first time an aircraft connected with carrier training during World War II has been raised from Michigan waters. We look forward to receiving the information the recovery will provide."

The entire recovery process and assessment of the plane's condition will be documented in writing and with video by a professional archaeologist who will then turn the materials over to the Archives of Michigan. Consultation with the MSHPO will continue throughout the rework process and the eventual interpretation of the plane. Information about the plane's association with the Great Lakes area and its recovery from Lake Michigan will be made part of the presentation of the aircraft when it is exhibited.

FMI: www.michigan.gov/mshda

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