The wreckage of an airplane lost during World War II in northern California has been found.
The TBM Avenger went down in Clear Lake just south of the Oregon border Dec. 4, 1944, during a training mission. The crash killed both men on board. The body of radioman David Herget was recovered in 1945. The body of the pilot, Lt. Robert Pinz, was never found.
Over the years the Pinz family made several overtures to the United States Navy to locate the airplane in order to recover his remains, but their requests were rebuffed.
In 2003 John Prosser and Jerry Maxwell, who live near the lake, learned that Pinz’s older brother, who is in his 90s, was still seeking information about the crash. The two men decided to take it upon themselves to instigate a search for the missing airplane.
They knew about the crash because it is part of the local folklore, says Ron Cole, manager of the Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge. “People who grew up around here hear about it around coffee tables and what have you,” he said.
Over the years there have been a few attempts to find the airplane, but none were successful.
Cole became involved in the search project when Prosser and Maxwell approached him at a community basketball game and told him about their plans to find the missing aircraft and Pinz.
“They told me they wanted to help the family get closure,” Cole says with admiration. “They were like bulldogs getting the logistics put together.”
Cole issued the special permits to allow the search to take place in the ecologically sensitive area.
Interspace Exploration, a professional dive operation out of Seattle, used sidescan sonar to locate the wreckage in 7 feet of water. Divers from the local sheriff’s department also assisted in the search and managed to bring up small parts of the aircraft.
“They were little pieces from the debris field, but they were definitely airplane parts,” Cole said.
The cockpit was not recovered.
What happens next is probably up to the Navy. In similar instances in the past the Navy has been reluctant to allow salvage to take place.
Cole speculated that since the goal of this dive was to recover the pilot and not the airplane, the Navy might take a different view.