By Debra J. Groom
Jim Kennard and fellow shipwreck sleuths Roger Pawlowski and Roland Stevens were just about ready to give up for the day.
They had been out on Lake Ontario, just off Oswego, sweeping a sonar back and forth like a broom across the bottom of the lake trying to find something. It wasn’t a ship that was their bounty this time, but instead, they were searching for a long lost plane.
“The story stated it was a mile off shore and we surveyed that area,” Kennard said. “But it wasn’t there. We kept making run after run, and nothing.
“It was the last run of the day. The flies were biting us, the sun was beating down on us and we were getting hungry. And then all of a sudden, there it was.”
“It” is an Air Force C-45 that went down off Oswego in 1952. The aircraft had experienced engine trouble near Utica, so the crew and passengers bailed out and left the plane on auto pilot, hoping it would come down in a remote area away from where people lived.
“It’s more than several miles off shore and in deep water,” Kennard said, noting he never divulges exact locations of items he and Pawlowski find in the water.
The plane was on a routine flight from Bedford, Mass. to the former Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome when the left engine began to fail as it was southeast of Utica. According to a news release from Kennard, the aircraft started to lose altitude about eight miles from Rome. The pilot, Lt. Col. Callahan, thought the plane would soon crash, so he ordered his crew and passengers to parachute.
The three Air Force crew and two civilians landed safely. The plane, which Callahan set on automatic pilot, continued on toward the northwest for more than an hour before it ran out of fuel.
Kennard said news reports at that time in the Oswego Palladium-Times quoted many Oswego residents as having seen the plane flying very low over the Port City. The owner of Rudy’s Lakeside and one of his employees were quoted in one story stating they saw the plane circle out over the lake and then go into the water.
“The story went on for three days,” Kennard said.
With all of the witness accounts, one would think it would be easy to find the plane and that it would have been found long before now. But Kennard said no.
“You’d think so, but it’s hard to judge distances when on shore and looking out into the lake,” he said. So what looked like a mile or so to witnesses actually was numerous miles.
Kennard, Pawlowski and Stevens, all of the Rochester area, have been shipwreck enthusiasts for years. They have found ships that date back more than 230 years. Kennard himself has found more than 200 shipwrecks.
He said this is the third plane he has found. He discovered a Cessna in Lake ONario between Rochester and Niagara in 1980 and found another Cessna in Lake Champlain in XXXX.
“This plane was one of several things on our watch list,” Kennard said.
What surprised the trio most was what fantastic shape the plane is in. Kennard said it had been thought for years that it broke up in so many pieces that it would be nearly impossible to find. But here it was, at the bottom of the lake, in almost perfect condition.
“It was missing the vertical stabilizer in back, the Fiberglas cone from the front and part of the roof,” Kennard said. “The rest is all there.”
The men who were on the plane that day were:
Lt. Col. Charles A. Callahan ,32 Pilot (Monticello, Miss)
Lt. Sam Sharff, 31 (New York City)
Lt. Col. G. S. Lambert (Newport News, Va)
William P. Bethke – civilian technician (near Rome, NY)
Joseph M. Eannario – civilian observer (Rome, NY)