- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — What remained of Hank Mascall’s Army Air Corps cap was right where he said he left it — in the nose of a World War II bomber that crash-landed and sank in a South Carolina lake 62 years ago.

Pulled last month from 150 feet of water in Lake Murray near Columbia, S.C., the olive-drab B-25 now is being cleaned and preserved for display at an aviation museum in Alabama.

Inside the silt-filled fuselage, volunteers and workers at the Southern Museum of Flight found a trove of artifacts, including machine guns, navigational equipment, radios and the pilot’s map satchel.

And when they scooped mud out of the nose section, they discovered the brim of Mr. Mascall’s cap, which the bombardier left inside the plane in his rush to inflate a life raft and get out of the sinking aircraft.

Mr. Mascall’s wife, Gerry, recalled when he came home the day of the crash without that hat. She said he couldn’t believe it when he heard the plane had been recovered from the muddy lake bottom.

“He was excited,” said Mrs. Mascall, of Portland, Ore., whose husband, now 86, lives in frail health in a nursing facility. “Our [five] children are just waiting for the day they can go look at it.”

Memories have faded, and no one is sure whether four or five men were aboard the twin-engine B-25 when it plunged into the lake on April 4, 1943, after its left engine failed during a training flight. Everyone survived, but Mr. Mascall is the only crew member known to still be alive.

Thanks to private fundraising, the 53-foot-long bomber — still in one piece except for its right engine and propellers — was raised last month at a cost of about $250,000. It was disassembled before it was brought to Birmingham on two flatbed trucks, and the sections are now scattered in a parking lot and inside a hangar at the nonprofit museum.

The plane’s aluminum skin is dented and pitted by corrosion in places, but otherwise, it’s in surprisingly good shape. Its exterior green paint is faded, but a white star inside a blue circle is still visible on the rear of the fuselage.

Even the foam padding in the pilot’s seat survived. A thermos with a shiny top was still strapped to a bulkhead behind the pilot’s seat, and the plane’s controls were frozen at their settings at the time of the crash.

“It’s just like it was for flight. One of the throttles is wide open,” said Joe Shannon, who flew a B-25 during the war and is a volunteer at the museum.

Some pieces, including the right engine and propellers, remain at the bottom of the lake, and museum director Jim Griffin isn’t sure if they will be recovered. He expects it will cost as much as $60,000 just to preserve what already has been pulled from the water.

After it’s cleaned and sprayed with anticorrosive chemicals, the B-25 will be reassembled inside a new exhibit hall, where sand and lighting will be used to make the craft look like it’s still on the lake bottom.

“The aircraft really is too badly damaged to do a complete restoration,” Mr. Griffin said, but “… people really want to see it the way it appeared in the lake.”

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