World War II fighter plane salvaged from Lake Michigan

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World War II fighter plane salvaged from Lake Michigan

November 08, 2010 - 00:31

A World War II fighter plane that crashed into an icy Lake Michigan during a training flight almost 65 years ago is to be salvaged. The F6F-3 Hellcat sank on Jan. 5, 1945, nearly taking pilot Lt. Walter B. Elcock with it.

A Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat night fighter

Walter Elcock, now 89 and living in Georgia, recalls the landing and how he managed to snag a wire on the carrier with the plane's tailhook and hung from it a few seconds before the wire broke.

"I went straight underwater," Elcock recalled. He unbuckled and kicked for the surface, maybe 10 feet away, thinking that he wouldn't be able to stay afloat wearing all of his heavy flight gear. Fortunately almost immediately, a Coast Guard ship pulled him out.

"I grew up hearing the story of this crash," said Elcock's grandson, Hunter Brawley, 36, of Atlanta, Georgia.

Locating the plane

While researching WWII Hellcat squadrons a few months ago, Brawley came across the Web site website of Taras Lyssenko of Chicago-based A&T Recovery, which specializes in retrieving historic planes from the lake.

The team had located Elcock's plane - resting nose-down in 250 feet of water, 50 miles from Chicago in Michigan waters - and a remotely operated vehicle had filmed it

Recovering the damaged aircraft proved almost as harrowing as trying to land it. Starting at 6 a.m. Nov. 21, the salvage crew took four hours to raise the plane. Transporting it back to shore required suspending the plane just below the lake's surface of the water and slowly motoring to harbor. That took until after sunset the next day.

The plane is expected to be restored and eventually put on display.

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