Search for missing planes beneath Lake Havasu begins

Divers were in Lake Havasu this week looking for decades-old wreckage of two planes, following last week's announcement by the Lake Havasu City Convention & Visitors Bureau of a $1,000 reward for anyone who can help find the sunken aircraft. Joel Silverstein and Jon Zuccala used an underwater magnetometer to scan the water for the missing planes. Silverstein said the search didn't turn up any wreckage, but he said there were promising results. “Got the first day of research with promising target that warrants further investigation,” Silverstein said after returning from the search.

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LAKE HAVASU CITY — There’s a rusted WWII airplane engine still visible just off the Iron Door Mine Trail above the city near Crossman Peak. It attests to a disaster in which five servicemen tragically died when their B-25J aircraft, based at Yuma AAF base, crashed in a fireball on Aug. 11, 1945. According to the mishap report, the aircraft flew into the mountain after encountering low clouds and rain. While that crash site is easily accessible to anyone with a pair of hiking boots, the site of two aviation mysteries are a bit harder to find.

The Lake Havasu City Convention and Visitors Bureau is offering $1,000 to anyone who can help find two planes believed to have crashed into Havasu’s murky depths decades ago.

CVB President/CEO Doug Traub said the organization will pay anyone who can find either of the planes, bring back photos and GPS coordinates.

According to News-Herald archives, a Pursuit P-40 crashed on Aug. 4, 1943, between Site Six and what is now Havasu Landing. Flames were extending back to the cockpit as it filled with smoke. The pilot, identified as Glen D. Benson in a report by the Army Air Force, escaped by parachute without injury. He wrote in his report: “After the parachute opened, I attempted to steer for land but was unable to guide the parachute. When I saw I was going to land in the Colorado River, I pulled off my shoes and unbuckled my parachute then dived out of the parachute when I was approximately 15 or 20 feet from the surface.

“After swimming about 10 minutes a motorboat from Site Six approached and picked me up.”

The plane, downed by engine failure, sank a complete wreck. It was there when Site Six ended its relationship with the U.S. Army in 1945, and is still somewhere beneath the lake surface.

There’s another mystery as well: Lake Havasu holds the wreck of a war surplus North American AT-6C single engine fighter which went down in the lake on Jan. 2, 1960, taking the lives of two duck hunters — both brothers from San Bernardino, California. It’s thought the carburetor froze up; the bodies were recovered but the plane has yet to be found.

Joel Silverstein, vice president and chief operating officer of Lake Havasu City’s Scuba Training and Technology, said he’s been hearing about reports of the crashes for years.

“We have searched a variety of areas with no joy,” he said in an email. “If in fact this account is accurate we may need to bring in a proton magnetometer and do some serious gridwork on the lake.”

Traub said he thinks the mystery could be of interest to both Havasu residents and recreational divers from around the nation.

“It’s not some Loch Ness monster down there, these are two real planes, piloted by real people,” Traub said. “It’s fully documented. These mysteries attest to the commitment of our servicemen and women, and the eternal lure of the skies above.”

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