Tuesday, December 26, 2017

at least five B-25s crashed into Lake Murray, South Carolina, three were immediately salvaged, and at least one remained abandoned at the bottom of Lake Murray until 2005

After the Doolittle Raiders group went off to California for the mission to Japan, other pilots continued to train over Lake Murray for practice bombing runs on Doolittle Island.

Records indicate that at least five B-25s crashed into the lake, three were immediately salvaged, and on April 4, 1943, a B-25 was on a skip-bombing mission over the lake’s island targets when:

Second Lieut. William Fallon had engines “pulled” on him many times as part of his rigorous flight training. The U.S. Army Air Corps went to great lengths preparing their pilots to fly the multi-engine aircraft that made up the wartime inventory. The training consisted of simulated engine failure immediately after take-off, on short final to landing and in cruise flight at comfortable altitudes. On Sunday, April 4th, 1943, this training would pay off for Lt. Fallon and his four crewmates as they practiced low-level bombing runs over Lake Murray, South Carolina.

Earlier in the morning the crew departed nearby Columbia Army Air Base and proceeded 12 miles northwest to the big man-made lake which had become a designated training area for flight crews all around the southeast region. The locals were accustomed to hearing the low-pitched rumble of the Cylones and Wasps growling about the lake. They never tired or complained of seeing them and actually enjoyed watching them as they soared and wheeled.

Lexington resident Bryce Lever and a friend were fishing from the bank of the lake that morning at the same time that the late Mrs. Katherine Townsend Tapp was walking along the shore with a friend. That’s when things began to get exciting for Lt. Fallon. Around 10:45 that morning, the crew had just finished a bombing run when the left engine of their B-25 began to fail. Unable to determine the cause he quickly ordered his co-pilot to “feather number one” while bringing the power up on number two. As he concentrated on flying the airplane, his instincts already had him slowly turning the now crippled bomber southeast towards the air base. Due to their low altitude and inability to climb he quickly consulted with his co-pilot and his bombardier as to what their best course of action should be.

The bombardier, Second Lt. Henry Mascall, convinced Fallon that a water landing was the best thing to do since loosing the good right engine at that low altitude could mean real trouble. Fallon concurred and with very little time ordered the crew to prepare as he pointed the nose of the ship into the last known wind direction. Both he and his co-pilot stood on the right rudder to counter the yaw from the healthy right engine but the big Mitchell was slowly descending, even with full power on the right side. The altimeter eased down as Fallon kept wings level until they were just feet above the surface. Back - pressure on the yoke raised the nose into a tail-down flair for landing position-just as he would on dry land. As the aft fuselage began to skip across the water, the ensuing drag suddenly pitched the nose of the bomber down, smashing into the surface.

Several plexiglass panels in the nose burst from the impact with the lake water. At the same time the right propeller struck the water with all of its torque, causing the motor to rip away from the mount and skip across the water. The aircraft quickly came to a halt and bobbed around while Mascall released the life raft. All crewmembers were safe and exited the aircraft out onto the wing where they clambered aboard the raft and paddled away.

The same day, another B-25 had ditched in the lake with all crewmembers safely rescued as well. Since it went down in only 50 feet of water it was later salvaged, but the Army quickly determined that Fallon’s ship was too far down and abandoned any salvage efforts. Soon, the war would be over, Columbia Army Air Base was turned over to Lexington County to serve as a civilian airfield and B-25C serial number 41-12634 settled in for a sixty-year long nap nestled safely in the dark, cold bosom of Lake Murray.

Greenville resident Dr. Bob Seigler had researched the plane since 1989. In 1992, he was working with the US Naval Reserve Sonar Unit when they located the exact position. With help from his  attorney he began the long process of obtaining salvage rights from South Carolina Electric and Gas, the owner of Lake Murray, as well as securing a quit-claim deed from the United Sates Air Force.

The technical team was led by internationally–known aviation salver, Gary Larkins, who  disassembled, rigged, and raised a P–38 Lightning from beneath 270 feet of a Greenland ice cap several years ago. He is regarded as the premier salver of historic airplanes, with some 68 to his credit worldwide.

In September 2005, the plane was brought to the surface and was transported to the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Alabama, for stabilization and permanent exhibition.

The plane is the third oldest of 130 left from the war.


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