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WWII fighter pilot’s Hellcat is pulled out of Lake Michigan

A fighter pilot has recalled the moment he crash landed in a lake – as his fighter plane was lifted from the water 65 years on.

The U.S. Navy led the recovery of the World War II F6F-3 Hellcat from the depths of Lake Michigan, Waukegan, today.

The plane – the sixth to be removed from the lake – had been submerged at 250 metres since January 5, 1944.

Although its pilot, Walter Elcock, 89, said he remembers the day as though it was yesterday.

During a training exercise during which Elcock was practising landing on a carrier deck, he was brought it in too low and lost his lift.

Elcock and his plane were left dangling over the side of the carrier after its tail hook got caught on a safety cable.

‘My right wing went out from under me and I went over the side of the carrier,’ he said.

‘So here’s the ship and I’m hanging straight down, looking at Lake Michigan.’

Elcock secured himself in the cockpit after saying he felt like something ‘was going to give’.

Then the cable snapped, plunging Elcock and the Hellcat 30-feet into the icy waters.

Elcock, who now lives in an assisted home in north-west Atlanta, said he was 10-feet under when he unhooked his seatbelt and parachute and swam to the surface.

A coast guard rescue team was waiting to fish him out.

Sixty-five years later, Chicago-based A&T raised the plane, which will be placed in the National Naval Aviation Museum in Florida.

The recovery, which cost $250,000 (£151,000), was paid for by Andy Taylor, chief executive of Enterprise Rent-A-Car in honour of his father, a Second World War naval aviator who flew the Hellcat planes on the carrier Enterprise.

Elcock’s grandson Hunter Brawley was at Waukegan Harbour, Illinois, today when the Hellcat touched down on land for the first time since 1944.

He called his grandfather while sitting in the cockpit of the plane, telling him: ‘I don’t know how many people get to see the plane their grandfather flew in, but literally sit in the place their grandfather flew in. And it’s made my year.’

Elcock said when he was told of the plan eight months ago, he thought the team were ‘out of their heads’.

He added: ‘There’s an easier way to find an airplane, you know there are bound to be some sitting around.’

But when asked how he felt after the planed had been rescued, Elcock said: ‘It brings back memories, some good, some not so great. I miss a lot of people I served with.’

Hellcats were used by the Navy between 1943 and 1946, phasing them out after the peak of the war.

They were designed to be built quickly and included cockpit armour and bullet-resistant windshields to help pilots survive an attack.


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