Group applies for permit to dredge Mon near Baldwin for B-25 crash site
Those convinced that a crashed B-25 bomber lies at the bottom of the Monongahela River hope to dredge a portion of the river to find it, this time near Baldwin Borough.
Bob Shema and others with the B-25 Recovery Group applied for a dredging permit with the Army Corps of Engineers to search a 200-foot section of the river at mile marker 4.9. The Army Corps posted a public notice about the application this week and will accept comment through July 30.
“We feel that if we find it, all of Pittsburgh finds it,” Shema, 65, of Ross said of the plane that crashed in 1956. “We should be able to use current technology to solve this mystery. We don't feel there's any conspiracy that it was taken out in the middle of the night.”
The Air Force bomber ran out of gas on Jan. 31, 1956, and plunged into icy water downstream of what is now the Homestead Grays Bridge.
Its fate is the stuff of urban legend. Some people say the government pulled the wreckage out within days of the crash because the cargo contained nuclear material, nerve gas or mafia money.
Others such as Shema's group of eight men have reviewed Coast Guard and other logs from the time and say the plane simply was never found. They've spent 20 years cobbling together money, donated equipment and volunteers for search efforts, all of which have failed.
This time, Shema hopes they've zeroed in on where to find pieces of the plane.
“We think the aluminum has probably dissolved. We're looking for engine blocks, propellers, landing gear and tires,” Shema said.
Andrew Masich, president and CEO of Heinz History Center, is among those who think the plane remains submerged. The center was involved with recovery efforts.
“We do believe the B-25 is still down there, mainly because of the unlikelihood that the government got it out in the middle of the night, and the paper trail was clear they did attempt to salvage it,” Masich said. “But there wasn't much reason to (close the river) to get it out.
“Those rivers were like major highways then, for a booming industrial city. The bodies of the crew who died were (recovered); the crew members who lived were rescued.”
Masich admits he can't explain why no one can find it.
“That is a mystery. There is nothing logical about losing a 15-foot plane in a 20-foot river,” he said.
The answer is logical to Robert Goerman, 62, of New Kensington: The plane isn't there. Goerman researches bizarre phenomena and has appeared on the History Channel program “History's Mysteries.”
Goerman said he and the late Robert Johns of Natrona Heights — whose research was published in 2008 as “The Incident That Could Have Killed Pittsburgh” — interviewed three members of the bomber's crew and witnesses in 1976. He contends that the CIA oversaw a secret operation to retrieve a plane that carried dangerous cargo during the height of the Cold War.
“There was more weight on that aircraft than they accounted for, and it ran out of gas,” Goerman said. “The plane was located ... and then it wasn't there.”
Shema thinks the plane slipped into a 47-foot hole in the riverbed that Dravo Corp. dug in the early 1950s to obtain fill material for mooring cells that J&L Steel built downriver. That hole today is only 32 feet deep, Shema contends, filled in by years of silt. That's where his group will focus the latest salvage effort.
If the Army Corps approves, the group will scoop up silt with a clamshell bucket. If plane material appears, divers will proceed with a more careful excavation.
“There's no doubt in my mind that the plane never left the water. To what degree it remained intact is unknown,” said Steve Byers, 45, of Delray Beach, Fla., a member of the recovery group. “It would be a wonderful ending to a great story — a picture of the group holding a piece of the plane.”
Bobby Kerlik is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.