The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 7, 2014

After years buried in Everglades, another warplane mystery solved

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Hidden in the dense sawgrass or buried in the deep muck of the Everglades are the mysterious wrecks of numerous aircraft.

Some were drug planes that fled federal agents, others were private aircraft that ran into trouble or vintage warplanes that crashed during exercises.

No one knows for sure how many remain out there. Estimates range from less than a dozen to more than 50. But AeroQuest.org a group of volunteer aviation sleuths, has resolved to find — or learn the story behind — as many of the wrecks as possible.

Their most recent find occurred last month, when air boaters spotted the wreckage of a Marine AD-4 Skyraider in northwest Broward County. From photos taken of the plane’s bureau number, the group was able to determine the single-engine attack was piloted by First Lt. Norman Dolsen, 27, and crashed on May 19, 1955.

“He was just married two weeks before the crash,” said Andy Marocco, president of Aeroquest.com.

The group was actually trying to find the TBM-3 Avenger flown by the commander of Flight 19, also known as “the Lost Patrol.”

That was the squadron of five Navy torpedo bombers that vanished after taking off from Fort Lauderdale in 1945, popularizing the myth of the Bermuda Triangle.

While many aviation buffs believe the plane was lost over the Atlantic Ocean, “until Flight 19 is found elsewhere, the possibility remains the planes could still be in the Everglades, and we’ll continue to look for them there,” Marocco said.

The aviation enthusiasts use historical clues, air boater sightings and Google Earth satellite imagery to locate planes. Yet spotting them isn’t easy.

“It’s almost like a wheat field in Kansas, just miles and miles of sawgrass, blowing in the breeze,” said Brett Holcombe, president of the Broward County Airboat Halftrack and Conservation Club and an Aeroquest member. “It’s literally like searching for a needle in a haystack.”

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