On a recent, chilly winter afternoon, a long lost World War Two fighter plane was found at the bottom of Lake Michigan. The aircraft, which crashed on December 28, 1944, was raised from its 200 foot deep watery grave as part of an ongoing project to salvage and restore historic aircraft.
The FM-2 Wildcat fighter was taking off from the deck of the USS Sable, one of two aircraft carriers used for pilot training on Lake Michigan during the war. As the plane roared down the deck, it failed to gain sufficient speed to become airborne. The fighter plunged over the edge of the carrier and disappeared beneath the waves, but the pilot was able to escape.
Taras Lyssenko, who co-owns A&T Recovery, the Chicago-based company that led the salvage operation, was shocked the pilot lived through the crash.
“I don’t know how the pilot survived this crash, because this plane lost its engine on takeoff and rolled right off the front of the ship. And the ship was going about 20 miles per hour. It looks to me like the ship hit the plane and ripped the tail off.”
The USS Sable was used as a side-wheel excursion steamer during peace time and the ship was considerably smaller than a normal aircraft carrier. From 1942 to 1945, more than 17,000 pilots learned to fly and master the basics of combat after launching from the carriers and local bases. One of the pilots who trained on the USS Sable was future President of the United States, George H.W. Bush.
An estimated 135-300 aircraft were lost in training flights over Lake Michigan and 35 have been salvaged. The Naval Aviation Museum Foundation sponsored the project and the plane will be sent to theNaval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida for restoration.
Salvage work began on December 7, 2012, the 71st anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. On that fateful day in 1941, known forever as “a date that will live in infamy,” eight US battleships were sunk or heavily damaged, 188 military aircraft were destroyed, and 2402 Americans lost their lives.
Many years later, Japan and America are now true friends and allies. Once the plane is fully restored, the old FM-2 Wildcat will sit in a museum as mute testimony to a time when the world went mad and America sent millions of brave soldiers to fight a terrible evil.