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Photos: Resurrecting a WWII-era bomber from the Tanana River

  • Author:
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published May 4, 2013

For more than a decade, Michigan resident Patrick Mihalek has dreamed about recovering a B25 Mitchell bomber from a sandbar in the Tanana River. The so-called "Sandbar Mitchell" was forced down after an engine failure in 1969 when flying for the fire service. Mihalek, who has been obsessed with B25s "forever" and spent countless hours as a teenager on the internet researching them, has put together a team of volunteers on a shoestring budget to recover this relic of another time. They plan to be on the river from June 22 to July 2 to prepare the wreckage for transport to the Lower 48. Ultimately, it will be completely rebuilt and serve as the centerpiece in the new Warbirds of Glory Air Museum.

The Sandbar Mitchell was purchased as surplus at a rock-bottom price from the Air Force in the late 1950s. Its military service over, the new owner retrofit it to serve as a fire suppression aircraft. In 1969, while fighting a fire in Manley Hot Springs, it suffered a double-engine failure after takeoff from Fairbanks. The pilot successfully landed it on a sandbar in the Tanana north of town and the engines, propellers and instruments were quickly removed. The rest of the aircraft remained however, as it was not worth the recovery cost. (B25s were so cheap then that it was uninsured.) Vandalized and damaged over the years it served primarily as a highly recognized landmark, particularly for pilots. No one has made any notable attempt to recover the Sandbar Mitchell -- until now.

Mihalek has purchased the aircraft from the owner's family, thus obtaining its registration and also collected the necessary permits for its salvage from the State of Alaska and Fort Wainwright. He already has the nose section of another B25, which he obtained years earlier, and plans to utilize as much of the Sandbar Mitchell as possible. "It is," he notes, "in much better condition than I imagined after being abandoned for so many years."

Full story: Historic warbird sunk in Tanana River nearly half-century ago finally finds a savior

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