The March discovery in the Oregon woods of the wreckage of a World War II-era warplane has raised questions about whether this was the first time someone has seen the wreckage.
The origins of the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, a U.S. Navy dive bomber, are a mystery. While initial media reports talked of this being a fresh discovery, a rather lengthy article in the Tillamook Headlight-Herald quotes extensively from longtime residents who have seen the wreckage before or have heard of a crash in that area.
A sidebar to the March 30 Headlight-Herald article referenced a story the newspaper published April 1, 1948, about a Navy pilot who died in a Helldiver crash in the woods where the wreckage was found.
"I saw that World War II plane wreckage some 30 years ago," said Carrol Spicer of Everett, Wash. "There was an air of sanctity and secrecy about it even then."
Meanwhile, a Helldiver first discovered by divers in January has been confirmed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration divers. The aircraft crashed in 1944 and the U.S. Navy is preparing a plaque to mark the site according to The Maui News.
The Oregon crash site isn't far from two naval air stations that were active during World War II.
Tillamook Air Museum curator Christian Gurling said the serial numbers indicate the plane was commissioned in 1945, the last year the model was in production. After the war, at least one of the air stations was used to store surplus Helldivers. According to residents, those years were active with aircraft coming into the area on their way to permanent storage in Tucson, Ariz.
Donald McElrea, who lives in Harrison, Ark., remembers his brother talking about having seen airplane wreckage in the 1940s. "A few people were aware the plane had crashed," McElrea said. "Then the Navy showed up and was asking this and that. That's how most people found out about it.
"They went up and recovered the guns. I was about 12 and my brother was 16 at the time. A week or so after the crash, my brother and several of his friends went back up in the hills and found the crash site. They looked it all over."
Oregon State Police bomb technicians checked the site Wednesday afternoon and found no obvious signs of unexploded ordnance; however, initial responders believe there's a possibility of human remains at the site and reported seeing a wing, tail section, landing gear, and other debris. Oregon State Police bomb technicians checked the site Wednesday afternoon and found no obvious signs of unexploded ordnance; however, initial responders believe there's a possibility of human remains at the site and reported seeing a wing, tail section, landing gear, and other debris. The site is in a heavily wooded area with aircraft debris stretching approximately 200 yards.
Tillamook County Sheriff Todd Anderson said that although determining when and how the Helldiver crashed is a goal of the investigation, discovering whether there are human remains at the scene is more important.
"Our number-one concern is that, if we have a couple of Navy boys out there, we treat them with respect and get them home," said Anderson.
A team of U.S. Navy personnel were called to investigate and share information with Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command in Honolulu and Navy Region Northwest.