WWII-Era Plane Pulled from Depths of Lake Michigan

Birdcage Corsair went down during training mission in 1943

Monday, Nov 8, 2010  |  Updated 9:21 PM CDT
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A Navy Corsair F-21 airplane is lifted out of <a title=Lake Michigan, 67 years after it crashed and sank to the bottom in a training mishap." />

Phil Rogers, Zach Christman

A Navy Corsair F-21 airplane is lifted out of Lake Michigan, 67 years after it crashed and sank to the bottom in a training mishap.

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After resting for nearly 70 years on the floor of Lake Michigan, a World War II-era plane is back on dry land.

Ensign Carl Johnson was piloting the Birdcage Corsair on June 13, 1943, attempting his carrier qualification on the U.S.S. Wolverine, when the fighter-bomber slid off the port side of the training ship and went into the lake about 10 miles off shore of Waukegan Harbor.  

The Glenview Naval Air Station at the time was used to train pilots on landing on aircraft carriers.  Johnson's was among the nearly 200 fighter planes that ended up in the water.

"These aircraft were older aircraft, a lot of them, as this Corsair was. They had mechanical problems, they had fuel problems, they had pilot error, they had a little bit of everything that led to them going into the water," explained Retired Navy Captain Ed Ellis of the National Aviation Museum Foundation of Pensacola, Fla., according to CBS Chicago

Johnson survived the crash but was killed in an in-flight incident involving another aircraft near Hawaii on Thanksgiving Day, 1943.

A&T Recovery, which has pulled 31 World War II-era planes from Lake Michigan, lifted Johnson's aircraft from its resting place nearly 250 feet below the surface.

The plane came up in sections; first the tail and then the fuselage.  After decades in the water, the tires had rotted away, but the cockpit was still in remarkable shape.  Though covered with mussels, the instruments were intact and the glass unshattered.

And despite the fact that much of the aircraft was covered in fabric, not metal, a great deal of the skin was intact and the insignia was still visible.

The plane is now destined for the Pensacola museum where it will be restored.

A World War II F6F3 Hellcat fighter plane and a SBD Dauntless dive bomber were pulled from the water near Waukegan Harbor last year.

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