Catch of the Day
May 16, 2008 - January 18, 2009 NOW CLOSED
Recovered artifacts from a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber forced to ditch in Lake Murray during World War II will comprise a "mini-exhibit" about the raising of the aircraft beginning May 16 at the South Carolina State Museum.
"Catch of the Day" tells the story of the ditching and the efforts to recover the B-25C plane after it spent more than half a century submerged 150 feet below the lake’s surface.
"South Carolina was a major center for training pilots during World War II," said Chief Curator of History Fritz Hamer.
"Because of its many deserted islands and large area, Lake Murray made an ideal training ground for bombing runs.
Between 1942 and 1945, thousands of hours of flight time were logged over the lake by pilots who learned how to deliver bombs onto practice targets."
But they didn’t all go perfectly. "After all, these were trainees, not experienced pilots," said Hamer. "But this particular plane developed engine trouble on April 4, 1943, and forced the crew to ditch the aircraft.
"At least four more B-25s also crashed or were ditched, and all but one was salvaged soon after sinking," said the curator. "But at 150 feet, the Army Air Corps decided it wasn’t worth the effort to recover this one."
Five decades later, that was to change. In 1989, Greenville physician and historian Bob Seigler began archival research to find B-25 wrecks in Lake Murray. In 1993 sonar investigations of the lake identified the location of this aircraft. Because of high interest in raising the rare historic plane, plans were quickly made to recover it. The actual recovery, however, was not quick. It took 12 years.
During that period, Seigler was joined by Columbia environmental and aviation attorney John Adams Hodge and Camden consultant Bill Vartorella, who assisted with various aspects of the recovery plan.
Seigler's efforts finally paid off in September 2005, when the plane was brought to the surface by a team of divers and surface personnel, said Hamer. "The aircraft was transported to the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Alabama, for stabilization and permanent exhibition."
Hodge, an environmental and aviation attorney, worked for over 13 years on the B-25 project. Hodge said, "There were days when we thought that this recovery would never occur, but we kept a steady and deliberate course. Over time many obstacles were overcome. The recovery itself was a daunting operation that was never assured until the aircraft was placed on a specially constructed saddle on the shore of Lake Murray. Up until the last minute, failure was always near. We felt that we had assembled the best team to execute the recovery, and that lesser teams would not have been successful."
In the State Museum’s exhibit, guests can see a C-2 altitude correction computer and an E-6B dead reckoning computer, both standard equipment for bombardier/navigators; an airplane hoisting shackle used for shipping planes; and a technical order for Bendix radios installed on B-25 aircraft. The artifacts were lent by the Birmingham museum.
"The Lake Murray B-25C, South Carolina’s ‘Catch of the Day,’ is a rare and valuable reminder of the role played by the Palmetto State in World War II," Hamer said.
The retrieval, which was chronicled on The History Channel's "Mega-Mover" series, received live coverage by major media and has been the subject of numerous enthusiast magazine articles, as well as traditional news outlets, and the Internet. The three expedition principals, Seigler, Hodge, and Vartorella, are Fellows of the prestigious Explorers Club and carried an historic Explorers Club flag (#103) during the retrieval. The team subsequently received the South Carolina Aviation Association's inaugural "Aviation Preservation Award" in 2006.