In the 57 years since a B-25 Mitchell bomber ditched in the Monongahela River near Homestead, its fate has been a tale filled with mystery, suspicion and intrigue.
The plane was over New Alexandria when it began experiencing problems with the level of fuel. The pilot shifted course and began heading for Greater Pittsburgh Airport—and as more fuel seemed to disappear, targeted Allegheny County Airport instead. When the engines ceased operating near the populated area approaching Pittsburgh, the pilot advised the crew that they would ditch in the river.
At 4:10 p.m. on Jan. 31, 1956, the World War II relic, which was refitted as a trainer, touched down with the wing flaps down and landing gear up in the river between the Homestead High Level (Homestead Grays) and Glenwood bridges. All six people aboard survived the impact without injury but two died in the cold water of the river before the plane sank. The plane stayed afloat for a while downstream then disappeared under the water.
In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette two days after the crash, the pilot said he chose the river because he didn't want to hit anyone on the ground.
The Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard dragged the river after the crash and the Corps hooked what they believed to be the wing of the aircraft but lost it. As that happened, some believe the plane fell into an old gravel pit in the river past the Glenfield Bridge downstream, across from the former Jones & Laughlin steel mill, not far from Becks Run, in an area known as Bird's Landing. To date, efforts to find it have been unsuccessful, though researchers note that because of the corrosive waters of the Mon, little of the fuselage may survive.
But there are also conspiracy theorists who believe the plane was carrying, depending on the story, an atom bomb, nerve gas, aliens, a UFO, Howard Hughes or clandestine cargo. One theory is that the military conducted a covert operation and secretly recovered the plane in the middle of the night, disassembled it and removed it by river barge to an unknown location.
The fact that the Cold War was at its height in 1956 and that Pittsburgh was surrounded by missile bases at the time probably had a part in people buying into the conspiracy theories.
What do you think? Are the tales just that? Or was this a government coverup? Let us know in the comments box below.
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