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Mon, Aug 20, 2007

WWII Airplane Debris Found In San Jose

Water Company Unearths SBD-5 Crash Site In Watsonville

A construction crew laying pipeline near the Pajaro River in north Monterey County, CA unearthed the remains of a World War II-era Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless (type shown below) in early July. The Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency collected and secured the artifacts, which were discovered in the middle of farmland.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, among the items recovered were a high school class ring, bullet casings, a can of Spam, landing gear, a burnt parachute, spent flares, and bone fragments from the pilot and co-pilot. The plane, which impacted terrain during a nighttime training mission more than 60 years ago, was an unsolved mystery until the crew stumbled on the site.

The water agency has begun the difficult process of tracking down the living family members of the two victims, Delbert C. Goodspeed, 21, and Robert Henry Paulsen, 22. The two men flew from a naval air base in the Central Valley for a training mission with the rest of their VB-18 squadron, but never returned.

Jack Green, a historian for the US Naval Historical Center in Washington, DC, told The Mercury News "something clearly went wrong. Toward dawn, it appeared that the plane just slowly banked to the left, which would indicate the pilot was probably unconscious."

Green says the men had been flying under clear moonlit skies, with the goal of learning maneuvers they would ultimately use in the Pacific Ocean aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid.

The Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless, most famous for its attacks on four Japanese carriers during the Battle of Midway, was primarily designed to attack surface ships and land targets.

Training accidents occurred frequently during World War II, as pilots and aircraft were churned out at a high rate.

"Time was of the essence, as you know." Green told The Mercury News. "There were more airplane accidents from training, in fact, than there were in the war itself. Accidents were a fact of life back then."

The water agency is required by law to preserve all artifacts uncovered during excavations related to agency affairs. "We'd like to find the families and return the belongings," said Mary Bannister with the water agency, "But it's going to be tough."

Richard Hernandez, an archivist with the Pajaro Valley Historical Association in Watsonville, CA, told The Mercury News a shrine will be erected at the site of the crash.

Bannister approves. "These guys were heroes," she said. "In a lot of ways, they died for us and our freedom."

FMI: www.pvwma.dst.ca.us/

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