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Divers find wreckage of World War II-era plane

Jul. 30, 2014 - 09:29AM   |  
Shown is a piece of a P-39 fighter plane that crashed in 1944 in Lake Huron
Shown is a piece of a P-39 fighter plane that crashed in 1944 in Lake Huron (Losinski family)
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PORT HURON, MICH. — David and Drew Losinski are struck by the coincidence.

They took a photo on April 11, from the surface of Lake Huron, of the wing of a Wold War II-era fighter plane that crashed during a training exercise, killing its pilot.

“That plane actually crashed April 11, 1944, which was 70 years to the date that the picture was taken,” Drew Losinski said. “We thought that was kind of unbelievable.”

The Losinskis are divers —David has been diving since 1977; his son, Drew, since 2002 — and both are former members of the St. Clair County Dive Team. They’ve seen lots of things underwater, but the story of the P-39 fighter lost just off the Port Huron beachfront touched them.

“It was eerie,” David Losinski said. “We didn’t know really what we had.”

What they had was a one-seat warplane piloted by 2nd Lt. Frank H. Moody, of Los Angeles. He was training with fellow pilots out of what was then Selfridge Field when his plane crashed.

“All four of the the guys that were in that flight were from Tuskegee,” Losinksi said. “I didn’t know anything about the Tuskegee Airmen until we got into this.”

The Tuskegee Airmen were African-American members of the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Force who fought in Europe during World War II. They also were known as the Red Tails because they painted the tails of their aircraft red.

The Losinskis found an account of the crash in the Times Herald. The story stated Moody and three other pilots were taking gunnery practice about three miles north of Port Huron.

Mrs. Cecil V. Fowler saw the crash, according to the Times Herald article.

“It was the most horrible thing I have ever witnessed,” she said. “There were four planes, and I was watching them from our front window, as I usually do when they’re engaged in gunnery practice.

“Then everything happened so fast it seems unbelievable.

“Smoke started coming from the tail of the second plane, and I could see it was in trouble. The pilot apparently noticed it and tried to lift his ship.

“It was a feeble effort, for the plane seemed to lift for only a few feet and then it crashed, nose first, into the water. I saw a big splash, and then the plane went out of sight.”

Moody’s body was not recovered until it washed ashore in Port Huron on June 4, 1944 — two days before D-Day and the invasion of Normandy.

David Losinski said he and his son were assisting the state Department of Environmental Quality with a barge that sank in Lake Huron in July 2012. During those efforts, they noted several areas they wanted to investigate, including one about four miles north of the Blue Water Bridge.

“(Superstorm) Sandy came along (in October) and moved things around,” David Losinski said.

They resumed the investigation last spring.

“This year, we went out diving, and we could see these points of interest from the surface,” Losinski said. “Drew said, ‘Dad, that’s an airplane.’

“You could see the wings. We knew we had some kind of plane.”

He said the wreckage from the plane is scattered across the lake bottom. Pieces include the engine, the tail, part of the door and the 37-millimeter cannon that fired through the propeller hub.

The P-39 had a unique configuration with the engine placed behind the pilot and the drive shaft running under the cockpit to the propeller. The plane was equipped with the cannon and four .50-caliber machine guns — two mounted on the wings, two more just behind the propeller and timed to fire through the spinning blades.

“We came across the gauge cluster, which had the radio call tag,” David Losinski said. “Once we brought that up and cleaned the tag, we knew it was the 221226 serial number.”

The Losinskis said they want to preserve the site for people to dive on.

“In a nutshell, this is what we’re trying to do — get permission to relocate the parts so they would resemble a plane,” David Losinski said.

That’s been easier said than done.

“The state says, ‘We don’t have jurisdiction over that; it’s the Air Force,’” Losinski said. “The Air Force says, ‘Any aircraft before 1961, we’ve abandoned it.’”

The Losinskis haven’t abandoned their quest to bring this long-forgotten chapter in the history of World War II to light. They’re looking for other divers who can assist with the effort.

“We’ve done quite a bit of documenting and measuring,” David Losinski said.

They want the site to remain a memorial divers can visit.

“All the artifacts that were taken off were replaced in their original position and original situation except for the tag we cleaned up,” he said.

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