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Mystery in the Mon


<< Search for the B-25 Bomber

After spending hundreds of hours going over documents, interviewing eyewitnesses, and conducting flow analysis with models to simulate how far the plane could have traveled downstream, Shema is confident that the plane is still in the river.

In 1995, the group mapped the bank of the Mon River near Birds Landing using side scan sonar imaging. This confirmed the location of the gravel pit, a deep hole formed many years ago by 'gravel pirates' who dredged the river bottom for gravel. They also found a partially sunken barge. There is another dark image that the group believes is a candidate burial site of the B-25.

To confirm the aircraft's location, the group wants to use a metal detecting magnetometer. This is a non-intrusive device that can detect metal buried under the muck and silt of the Mon River. "This device should provide a picture of what's under Bird's landing," says Shema. Once they confirm the location, they will take samples from the river bottom and analyze them to confirm that any metal found is identical to that used in the construction of the Mitchell bombers. The cost of renting the equipment, and the support effort to use it will require about $25,000.

Shema is confident they will find parts of the aircraft, but the thought of an eerie specter of the Pittsburgh ghost bomber rising from the Mon is doubtful. "We expect to find the engine blocks, landing gear and tires - they were all made to be bulletproof… but the rest of the plane - doubtful." Shema also said that the water quality of the Mon River in the 1950's was poor, at best. Life expectancy of any metal in the Mon's polluted water was 1/3 to ½ that of the Allegheny. "You couldn't keep an outboard motor in the water all year - the propeller would be dissolved in no time. All the aluminum [of the plane] is expected to be gone, except what may have come in contact with the bottom," Shema said. Four dives have been conducted in the Mon to date, but all they found was wood. "You don't find steel in the Mon" said Shema.

The B-25 Recovery Group is working with the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (HSWP) and the Sen. John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center in this effort. Ms. Betty Arenth, senior vice president of the History Center is excited to be a part of solving this mystery. "It was natural for us to get involved with Bob [Shema] and the B-25 Recovery Group - it's a part of Pittsburgh's history" said Arenth.

Shema said that when they find the plane, any artifacts would be turned over to the History Center. "When we find it, it really is a credit to all of Pittsburgh for the help they have given over the years"

When asked about the conspiracy theories, Shema, a Pittsburgh native, remembers the day the plane crashed. He concedes that, "It was the late 50's, at the height of the cold war, and we were surrounded by missile bases. It is comforting to think our military could come in and remove an aircraft with no witnesses." Shema continued, "The four of us would not have invested thousands of hours and significant resources for a wild goose chase. Why would someone put nerve gas, or nuclear weapons on an obsolete aircraft? The plane was an Air National Guard plane, a trainer. It was due to be retired in 18 months. It was the last day of the month and these pilots were just trying to get their flight time in."

Shema closed, "This plane simply ran out of gas".

Anyone interested in helping to solve one of Pittsburgh's greatest unsolved mysteries can make a tax deductible contribution to the B-25 Recovery Group. The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania has established an account for the group. Donations, made out to HSWP can be sent to the following address:

The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (HSWP)
Attn. Ms. Betty Arenth - B-25 Project
1212 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh PA 15222

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