On anniversary of 'Ghost Bomber' crash into Mon, group still hopes to find its remains
Sputtering, then silently gliding, a B-25 bomber slipped from the sky and splashed down in the Monongahela River just short of the Homestead High-Level Bridge 62 years ago Wednesday, giving Pittsburgh one of its most enduring mysteries.
But a persistent group of divers, scientists and history buffs isn't giving up on solving the mystery of what happened to the bomber, which ran out of fuel on a Nevada-to-Harrisburg training flight the afternoon of Jan. 31, 1956, ditched in the river and sank, defying efforts to find and recover it for decades.
Two of the six crew members drowned trying to swim to shore in the icy-cold river. In the midst of the Cold War, there were rumors that the plane had been carrying a nuclear bomb, a recovered UFO or secret passengers; stories persisted that the military had secretly raised the plane in the middle of the night. One sleuth, Allegheny Ludlum technologist Robert Johns of Natrona Heights, had his research posthumously published as "The Incident that Could Have Killed Pittsburgh."
The "B-25 Recovery Group" thinks they've narrowed down the bomber's most likely final resting place to a 50-by-200-foot area off the Glenwood Bridge, a trench that had been dug for gravel and then filled in with silt, said Robert Shema of New Brighton-based commercial diving firm Marion Hill Associates, the operations manager for the group. This October, when the water is still warm but recreational boating has slowed down, they may try another search.
Decades of submersion and erosion may have dissolved the aluminum skin of the aircraft, so previous searches with divers, remote-controlled submersibles and side-scanning sonar have concentrated on finding large, durable metal and rubber chunks, like the engine blocks, landing gear, fuel tanks and propellers, he said.
Pending permits from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers, the recovery group plans to go out on the river this fall and use an underwater drill to poke into the silt in a grid-like search of the area, hoping to strike the bomber's sunken, silt-covered remains.
"We'll drill about every seven and a half feet. If we do it at that frequency, there's no way we could miss an aircraft, no matter what configuration it's ended up in," said Shema.
The Heinz History Center's Detre Library and Archives has news clippings and official reports related to the crash and subsequent search for the "Ghost Bomber."
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer.