Salvagers recovered a World War II-era fighter plane that crashed during takeoff nearly 70 years ago from Lake Michigan last week. Pulled from it's watery grave on December 7, 2012—71 years after Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor—the plane will eventually be restored at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.
The FM-2 Wildcat fighter plane, recovered from approximately 200 feet (61 meters) of water, crashed into the lake on December 28, 1944. The plane's engine had died during an attempted takeoff from the U.S.S. Sable, one of two U.S. aircraft carriers used for pilot training on Lake Michigan in the 1940s.
"They were small, sidewheel steamer aircraft carriers and smaller than a normal aircraft carrier," explained Taras Lyssenko, who co-owns A&T Recovery, a Chicago-based company that led the salvage project.
Between 1942 and 1945, 17,000 pilots were trained to fly and fight on Lake Michigan, and the small, tubby FM-2 Wildcat was one of the primary training aircraft used.
Lyssenko said he was shocked when he first saw the state of this particular FM-2 Wildcat. "I don't know how the pilot survived this crash, because this plane lost its engine on takeoff and rolled right off the front of the ship," he said.
"And the ship was going about 20 miles [32 kilometers] per hour. It looks to me like the ship hit the plane and ripped the tail off."
(Related pictures: "World War II 'Time Capsule' Fighter Found in Sahara")