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Mystery in the Mon

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<< Crash of the B-25 Bomber

John Uldrich, a marketing and management professor currently teaching in China, heads the group. He has a background in sonar technology, has participated in a number of search and recovery efforts around the world, and has spent much time in Pittsburgh. Bob Shema, a Pittsburgh native and the group's Operations Director, is a water quality expert. He brings an in depth understanding of the Mon River and experience with sonar scanning technology to the team. Steve Byers owns a local computer company, Sennex, in the South Hills, and Matt Pundzak, is a consultant from Virginia. Matt, Steve, and John are all experienced pilots.

The group began a detailed and scientific study into the fate of the B-25 in 1995. They carefully pieced together eye witness accounts from the night of the crash and its subsequent weeks, spent hundreds of hours pouring through documents from government and civil sources, and interviewed experts on everything from water quality in the Mon, to the river bottom, to the design and construction of the Mitchell B-25 bomber. They even conducted flow analysis using models in the Mon River to simulate where the river may have taken the plane.

The result of all this research? Bob Shema, the group's Operations Director, is confident that they have found the final resting place of the aircraft. "We are optimistic that we will be able to solve this mystery this year," he says.

Shema believes the plane is sitting under about 10 to 15 feet of silt in 32 feet of water just off of Birds Landing. Birds Landing is across from the old J&L steel mill just west of the Glenwood bridge at mile marker 4.9. It was once a tie-off spot for barges.

When asked how confident he is in this location, Shema related some of the evidence they had accumulated over the past five years.

"There were hundreds of eye-witnesses to the crash", said Shema. The plane went down just east of the Glenwood Bridge (before the Homestead High-Level Bridge) heading up river. Shema goes on to explain that the river was running very fast that day. Five of the six crewmembers climbed onto the wings of the plane as it floated downstream. Shortly thereafter, the plane sank. Four crewmembers were rescued, and two bodies were recovered downstream, drowned.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard dragged the river repeatedly after the crash. Shema said that accident reports stated the Corps hooked what they believed to be the wing of the aircraft. In the process of bringing it to the surface, however, the anchor slipped off and the plane sank back in the water. Then, they snagged something else, but in trying to bring it to the surface, the 2" thick cable snapped. Twice. Shema said that there were photos of this operation, and the photos show high tension wires and shoreline features, that are still there today. "We know exactly where the plane was last seen," Shema said.

He believes the plane was indeed snagged the first time they tried to pull it up, but then when it slipped off, it fell into an open gravel pit at Birds Landing. The next two times, when the cables snapped, Shema thinks that they snagged something else. Birds Landing is home to an old submerged concrete ice breaker. "A 2" thick steel cable requires over 31,000 pounds of force to break," said Shema. "A B-25 weighs half that. One of the few things in the river that could do that is that old concrete ice breaker"

Also, if the plane really was pulled up, loaded on railroad cars or barges, and spirited down the river, there had to be some eyewitnesses. Shema has spent 30 years working on the rivers and has talked to hundreds of people that were on the river that night. "There are just no credible eyewitnesses," Shema said.

He related the story of one witness they interviewed who said he watched divers on a barge, in black suits and flippers, turn off all their lights and go into the water. Shema counters by stating, "The water temperature was 34 degrees. The river was flowing 5-7 knots. The water was 3 feet high - a mini flood. In the 50's, standard issue for divers was a 155 lb Mark 5 dive suit. The last thing a diver would have under those conditions would be flippers. Sorry, this is not a credible witness."

Another person they talked to was the wife who confessed that her husband was the diver that removed the '7th body.' She explained that this was his excuse for not coming home that night.

Next > Solving the B-25 Mystery

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