Clue emerges in WWII plane wreckage mystery

Clue emerges in WWII plane wreckage mystery »Play Video
Photo courtesy of Oregon State Police.

PORTLAND, Ore. - A date stamped on the wreckage of a World War II-era plane that was found deep in the woods near Wheeler, Ore. last week could help investigators determine when it crashed and who may have been on board.

According to Tillamook County Sheriff Todd Anderson, investigators are looking at three different crash reports - two that happened in 1945 - to see if they match the pieces of a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver that was found March 18 by loggers scattered over 200 yards of forest.

But he said investigators are concentrating on a report of a Helldiver crash in 1948, because they found “1946” stamped on the wreckage. The 1948 crash was reported much closer to where the loggers found the wing, tail section and landing gear of the plane.

From a U.S. Navy report that the sheriff’s office found, that plane crashed on March 31 about 15 miles north of Tillamook, which would put it in the area of where the wreckage was found. Anderson said the report contained very little information so it could not be determined if anything was recovered from the crash.

It has not been determined if any human remains are at the recently discovered crash site but investigators looked again for any remains on Friday.

Peggy Lutz of McMinnville, witnessed one Helldiver crash on March 21, 1945 – 65 years ago.

She said news of the recent discovery of a Helldiver crash sent chills through her.

Lutz was a control tower operator during World War II at the naval air base in Astoria, and she described the experience in her book Never Salute with a Broken Garter.

She and others in the tower watched as pilot Stanley Thompson of Dorchester, Mass. tried to make good on a bet and prove that he could pull his Helldiver out of a flat spin. Thompson and Herbert Lynn of Sebring, Fla. both died when the attempt failed.

“When he told us what was going down, we all wanted to be somewhere else,” she said.

There was nothing anyone could do to stop him, because the flight was approved by the operations officer.

Lutz said she vividly remembers feeling helpless as she watched when Thompson couldn’t make good on his wager.

“Watching the plane go down, you feel like it’s your fault,” Lutz said. “When he disappeared down below the horizon, we knew that he had flattened, pancaked. That was pretty horrible to watch. You know when you’ve watched two people die.”

Records show the bodies of the crew were recovered seven miles southeast of Astoria.

“My only real interest in that is that we get closure,” said Lutz about the recent discovery. “If there are remains, there is a family somewhere that really needs closure.”

The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was an attack and bombing plane during World War II. The two-seater had a top speed of 295 mph and could carry 1,000 pounds of bombs or an internal torpedo.

It was built in 1939 but because of production problems and poor handling it didn’t go into service until 1943.

At first, pilots weren’t too excited about the Helldiver, because it was bulkier and heavier than other planes, earning it the nickname “The Beast”.

The Navy is trying to keep the exact location of the wreckage a secret until it completes its investigation. 

KATU News reporter Anita Kissée contributed to this report.