B25 2

This archival photo provided by the South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation shows a B-25C Mitchell medium bomber being pulled from the bottom of Lake Greenwood in 1983.

On Aug. 5, 1983, nearly 2,000 people lined the shores of Lake Greenwood behind the former Panorama Lodge restaurant in anticipation of an engineering marvel.

And they weren’t disappointed, as the cockpit of a World War II B-25 Mitchell medium bomber crested the surface, 39 years after the massive aircraft plummeted into the murky waters when a military exercise went awry.

Today, the plane, known by its call letters “GF2,” is being reconstructed by the South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation inside a hangar at Columbia’s Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport.

In the intervening decades since the rescue mission was spearheaded by Greenwood’s Mat Self, the plane’s return to grace has received state and national media exposure – including comprehensive coverage by the Index-Journal.

The same year she was salvaged, Self gave a speech in Greenwood describing the huge logistical challenge such an endeavor required. His remarks are included on the Historic Aviation Foundation’s website.

Inspired by an article in Air Force Magazine about a request to locate a B-25 for the National Air & Space Museum, Self recalled the stories he heard about Lake Greenwood’s strange addition.

After contacting then-U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, officials concluded the costs were too great for the plane to be restored to the museum’s standards. But why not enlist a Navy Reserve unit to try and locate the B-25, and see what could be done from there?

During Christmas 1982, a member of the Navy’s diving and salvage unit arrived in Greenwood, where talks began about the ambitious project.

“Finally, in March of 1983, Commander Wood, along with eight other members of the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 506 out of Little River, Virginia, arrived in Greenwood. They were preceded by three regular Navy personnel from Norfork, Virginia. These three individuals were explosives ordinance and disposal personnel (EOD). They also brought along with them side-scan sonar. Without this sonar, locating the B-25 would have been virtually impossible because of the visibility conditions on the bottom of the lake, Self said in 1983.

Crews found the plane on their first pass, thanks to information provided by Anna Knox, whose husband took the B-25’s crew members off the plane and back to dry land following the crash.

“This was the first time in 39 years that anyone had asked her where the plane was located,” Self said.

Finding the plane was the simple part.

Duke Energy offered a barge with enough space to house the plane once it was pulled from the lake, and the utility also cut off power lines during its excavation.

Coleman Oil Co. provided fuel and 55-gallon storage drums that were used to lift the plane and place it under Duke’s barge.

A crane was also needed, so Wilson Brothers made one of theirs available, along with a flatbed trailer that was used to move the plane to the Greenwood Airport. State officials also coordinated with the Navy to provide man hours and equipment.

The South Caroling Highway Patrol and state National Guard also helped with crowd control and security once the B-25 was retrieved.

In his remarks, Self made sure to credit Roy Still of Greenwood and Ninety Six resident D.L. Burnett Jr., who 17 years prior – in 1961 – made an initial attempt to recover the World War II asset.

“Still and Burnett have asked permission from the United States War Department to salvage the plane and have received assurance that permission would be granted,” an Index-Journal article from Nov. 15, 1961 reported.

Still and Burnett, who ran wrecker services, didn’t have the luxury of modern technology or a Navy dive team. They relied on skin divers and an old mine detector to determine the plane’s location.

Contact staff writer Adam Benson at 864-943-5650 or on Twitter @ABensonIJ.