March 26th, 2010
02:01 AM ET

Wreckage of WWII plane found in Oregon

Loggers in coastal Oregon have found the wreckage of a World War II-era Navy aircraft that investigators believe may have human remains inside.

Investigators reported seeing a wing, tail section, landing gear and other mangled debris spread out over 200 yards in a heavily wooded area in Tillamook County in northwestern Oregon.

Oregon State Police bomb technicians checked the site Wednesday afternoon and found no obvious signs of unexploded ordnance.

The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, a carrier-based dive bomber used in World War II, was discovered March 18 by a logging company working in the area.

The two-seat, single-engine plane crashed within 20 miles of Naval Air Station Tillamook, which was decommissioned in 1948, but the air station of origin has not been determined.

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soundoff (76 Responses)
  1. mike

    Maybe he bailed out and walked home.

    March 26, 2010 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  2. John

    The aircraft will be identified by the serial numbers found on the remaining parts. With the plane's identity established a check with the Navy archives will give the plane's history as well as the details on the last mission and the plane's crew. The remains, if any remain, will be identified and interred by the Navy according to the wishes of the family.

    March 26, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  3. mgh610

    there are so many factors involved here, but first if they do find remains there they will be buried with full military honors, but thats if there are any. this happened so many years ago, the remains could have be removed from a recovery back then or the pilot could have parachuted out, there are so many possibilities.

    March 26, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jon

    "Only 20 miles from the base, and no one was aware of the crash or of the crash site! Almost inexcusable." Larry, your comment shows that you have no idea about aviation in that time period. Even now, anything scattered in an area of heavy forrest is very difficult to locate. Also, I highly doubt that there is anyone in that area with rapid access to records of a WWII era Navy Base that has been closed since 1948, so to say "No one was aware" is a huge assumption. Look at how many modern aircraft disappear or crash with no one being sure where the wreckage is until a long search locates it. Good news is it was located, and there appears to be no danger from unexploded ordnance. If there are remains, they will be recoverd, identified and properly handeled with full military honors.

    March 26, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mvg

    This is the only Helldiver missing in Oregon:
    21078 VB-7 Ens.Winston W.Wilson 31.08.45 Or,Tillamook Missing
    on routine flt off Tillamook;2/missing
    So that's the pilot & there would've been a radioman/gunner as well.
    In terrain like that, it's hardly surprising the plane wasn't found (not "inexcusable"), even 20 mi from the air station. The commenter 'larry' is assuming anyone even KNEW where the plane went down. Odds are they could only make an educated guess based on the flight plan. Any search would've had to cover a massive area. Weather & terrain probably worked against them. Remember how long it took to find Steve Fossett's crash site - & that was w/all our modern high tech to help.

    March 26, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MikeD

    Insanely enough I'm hearing quite a lot of this somehow being connected to the infamous Flight 19. How could a short-range plane stationed out of Ft. Lauderdale, FL end up cross country in Oregon? These planes were NOT equipped for mid-air refueling.

    March 26, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. coco

    Didn't Amelia Earhart fly a Helldiver?

    March 26, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Big John

    To all who are surprised by the 20 mile figure. If that is the radius of an area to be searched then the search area is just over 1256 square miles, an area the size of Big Bend National Park. 1256 square miles to search with out helicopters, thermal imaging or night vision gear, just incredibly dense rain forest as far as the eye can see.

    March 26, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Nick

    it's possible it was pilot error but knowing a bit of WWII era aviation, I know that the Helldiver was actually feared by naval pilots because it was well known for mechanical failures in steep dives. It found a better roll as a torpedo bomber but was eventually phased out because of it's many many mechanical problems so it is quite possible it was not pilot error. Back in those days you had to open the cockpit and climb out in the case of a bail out not something that can be done safely in a dive or at low altitude. And remember roads weren't as common as they are today, and we didn't have the offroad vehicles that could make it threw heavy woods to make recovery.

    There was also a B-17 that crashed off the coast at cape look out. Only one man in a crew of 10 made it out alive and actually passed away last year. Its always nice to find wreckage like this and be able to fill in the blanks and give the deceased families closure (if any family members are still around). And also to give the rightful funeral to those who served.

    I haven't heard if they have tracked down the date of crash but it could be several years post war. Many of these planes old dive bombers were used as trainers but I doubt the Helldiver would be one simply because of it's unreliability. T6 Texans were much easier to come by.

    March 27, 2010 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
  10. Super Todd

    There was an operational air base out of Tillamook OR, 2 planes went missing in 45 and another in 48. all three of those crashes the crews were never found. You have to remember OR was the only Lower state to be attacked by the Japanese. A submarine luanced plane dropped a bomb attempting to start forest fires just east of Brookings. Also I think a sub shelled a base on the coast somewhere in the Northern part of the State.

    March 27, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Super Todd

    Rememeber Coastal Oregon areas are very thick with Old growth timber and coastal rainforest. The country is steep and remote.

    March 27, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mvg

    Flight 19 were Avenger torpedo bombers. Connecting those aircraft to this crash site of a dive bomber is indeed "insane."

    March 29, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mark

    The remains of the pilot Robert Smedley were recovered from the crash site. His wife at the time died in 2006 on the Big Island of Hawaii and daughter Susan is still alive and is married to me. She has his personal effects from the crash site that the Navy turned over to her mother. At the time Susan was 9 months old and never new her father. Part of the items collect at the scene include a lighter that was given to him by his wife, his military and wedding ring and metal buttons from his uniform. We just learned about this news story tonight and wonder why the Navy never removed the wreckage? I guess they had other more important issues. A photo of Robert Smedley is available if any wants a copy. He was really a handsome man who looked the part as a Navy pilot. His image was used in WWII on miltary poster seeking new pilots. His wife became a welder during the war and her image was used in posters to get more women to join the cause.

    His wingman that day visited my wife some years agon in Norfolk, VA and told her that the crash was caused because of bad weather. Hope this answers some questions. Thanks for all the kind thoughts.

    May 29, 2010 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christian Gurling

      Hi Mark,

      I would be very interested in a picture of Robert Smedley. Could you please contact me at CGurling@Tillamookair.com.

      Thanks so much,

      Christian

      May 31, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
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