SAN DIEGO – A rare World War II dive bomber was lifted 90 feet from the bottom of a San Diego reservoir Friday and hoisted to dry land for the first time in 65 years.
The SB2C Helldiver aircraft was brought to the surface after days of work to free it from several feet of mud and debris on the dark floor of Lower Otay Reservoir, where it was spotted last year by two men using a fish finder.
Divers from A&T Recovery in Chicago said the tail of the plane was sticking out of the silt, but the engine was completely buried.
A crowd watched Friday as the mud-caked, single-engine plane, with both wings attached, broke through the surface of the water then officially touched shore at 3:50 p.m. PDT.
Its propellor was mangled, but splotches of blue showed through the corrosion and mud elsewhere on the aircraft.
The plane will now be dried out, disassembled and trucked to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., for restoration and display, said Taras Lyssenko, A&T general manager.
The Helldiver crashed when the engine failed during a training flight on May 28, 1945. Sgt. Joseph Metz and his pilot swam to shore and survived but have since died.
The plane was all but forgotten until Duane Johnson and a fishing buddy spotted the outline of a plane on the fish finder.
Only a few of the 5,100 Helldivers manufactured during World War II still exist. One of its nicknames was "The Beast" because it was so hard to handle.
"It wasn't a particularly good airplane," said Navy Capt. Ed Ellis of the Florida museum.
The aircraft had a tendency to crash. The first prototype crashed in February 1941. The second went down as it was pulling out of a dive.
A former volunteer at the aviation museum left money to cover the cost of the plane's extraction from the San Diego reservoir.
A&T Recovery said it will not even try to recover an aircraft if crew members died in the crash because the site is considered a grave.