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Pittsburgh B-25 Monongahela River Mystery

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IN MEMORIAM (1956)

Pittsburgh B-25 Monongahela River Mystery

by

Robert A. Goerman

http://robertgoerman.tripod.com

 

This is the official website for the original 1976 cold case investigation into the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania mystery of a USAF B-25 bomber, serial number 44-29125, that was forced to make an emergency landing on the Monongahela River on January 31, 1956.

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It began with a whoosh!

Afternoon rush-hour traffic on the Homestead High Level Bridge was shocked to a standstill as that winged behemoth swooped from the sky.

It was 4:09 p.m. on January 31, 1956. Although some would maintain that the TB-25N twin-engine bomber, serial number 44-29125, missed them by inches, cooler heads would prevail and estimate that the aircraft, longer than a streetcar with a 67-foot wingspan, missed clipping the bridge by a good 30 feet. Folks rushed to the railing in time to observe the plane, out of fuel, both engines silent, ditch in the icy waters of the Monongahela (locally known as the Mon) River below.

The bomber made a flawless belly landing. Suffering damage to its radio compass antenna housing, but otherwise completely intact, the rugged warbird raced downstream, serving as an impromptu lifeboat for the survivors before finally sinking about one mile and 17 minutes later near the Jones and Laughlin steel plant.

Things in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania got hectic. Emergency ropes were lowered from bridges and every craft on the water rushed to the aid of the downed airmen.

Officially rescued safely were Maj. William L. Dotson, the pilot; Capt. John F. Jamieson, the co-pilot; MSgt. Alfred J. Alleman and Airman Charles L. Smith, passengers. The bodies of Capt. Jean P. Ingraham, passenger, and SSgt. Walter E. Soocey, Crew Chief, were recovered on April 8 and May 28, 1956.

Dragging operations to locate the bomber began the following morning and Patrolman Harry Ebaling of the River Patrol snagged what he believed to be the aircraft in the approximate location where witnesses said the aircraft sank. The Coast Guard Cutter Forsythia marked the location with a lighted buoy.

On Thursday, February 2, the Forsythia commenced dragging operations using a 350-pound anchor attached to a manila towrope two inches in diameter. An object was snagged at 6:00 p.m. and brought to the surface. It appeared to be a wing of the aircraft. The anchor slipped off the object and it sank back into the river. Another attempt snapped the towline, losing the anchor. A smaller anchor with a steel cable was rigged up and it was lost as well.

Searchers suspended all search and dragging operations pending the manufacture of a special “grappling hook” that was being produced by the Coraopolis Tool and Machine Company. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arranged to have the dredging barge Monello II moved in for dragging operations.

River Patrol officers sent out a hurried call to the Coast Guard on Friday, February 3. Sgt. Pete Settnek said the buoy marking the sunken B-25 had drifted about half a mile downstream from its original position.

The Monello II arrived at 2:30 p.m. on February 4. The area where the airplane was briefly brought to the surface was swept thoroughly but nothing was found. In the meantime, the Forsythia arrived and proceeded to drag the main channel with the special grappling hook. All search operations were suspended at 7:30 p.m. when fog settled over the area and it became too dangerous to continue.

At least one report alleges that a gadget to detect radioactivity was aboard an Air Force H21 helicopter brought from Olmstead Air Force Base, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that made several low passes up and down the Monongahela River on February 8. The reason given: some of the plane’s dials were radium-coated to enable reading in the dark.

All official search operations were abandoned by Valentine’s Day. The Air Force put the B-25 up for sale on November 9, 1956, via sealed invitation bid. The only bidder was John Evans, of Pleasant Hills, a Pittsburgh-area seaplane pilot, who paid $10 for salvage rights to the $200,000 aircraft and spent years searching without luck.

Curious divers have since scoured every inch of river bottom. All they ever got was wet. Everything from crude grappling hooks to modern detection devices have been employed over the years. The public has been told that no trace of this aircraft was ever found.

It was as if it never existed.

In Memory of Robert H. Johns

November 20, 1934 - December 22, 1991

I can remember when every Friday night was "Bob" night.

My marriage was just beginning. The marriage of my best friend and colleague, Robert H. Johns, had ended in bitter divorce.

I am an author and investigative researcher of transient anomalies and matters unknown and unexplained. Bob Johns was my good right arm. He had formerly served as a Navy Crew Chief on a P2V-3 Patrol Bomber, held a commercial pilot’s license, and worked as a project technologist in the laboratories of the Allegheny-Ludlum Steel Corporation.

During one Friday get-together in January of 1976, Bob described how his emotional turmoil led to another sleepless night listening to talk radio. He recounted that a trucker had anonymously called the Perry Marshall show on KDKA and confessed that, twenty years ago, agents of the Central Intelligence Agency had hired him and two other truckers to secretly haul the cut up wreckage of a certain B-25 aircraft over to the secure Nike Missile site in Oakdale, Pennsylvania, during the dead of night. He also claimed that soldiers in military jeeps escorted their impromptu convoy.

"It was his tone," Bob explained to me why this caller had made such an impression on him. "There was a slight but unmistakable trace of fear in his voice."

This story intrigued me so much that I telephoned the producer of the Perry Marshall show and offered our investigative services. With Bob Johns at my side as an "Aviation Consultant," our efforts to unravel this mystery began in earnest.

During our initial Friday, January 23, 1976 radio appearance, a man called in to tell us that he personally witnessed three flatbed trucks carrying sections of a large airplane a few days after the crash. These trucks crossed Route 30, just west of Pittsburgh. He added that Military Police stopped traffic until the trucks passed. A woman caller knew a retired Air Force officer who claimed that he had seen the wreckage of that B-25 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, within a week of the crash. The nurse on duty at Montefiore Hospital recounted being warned into silence.

Our second KDKA broadcast celebrated the 20th anniversary of the ill-fated flight and featured Master Sergeant Alfred J. Alleman (one of the survivors) as our guest. We crossed the Rubicon that night and the rest was history.

The enduring mystery of Pittsburgh's Ghost Bomber literally saved my friend's life. It consumed him and became his obsession. Bob remarried in 1980 and died at the age of 57. His manuscript documenting our historic investigation, "The Incident That Could Have Killed Pittsburgh," was not published. Now, many years after Bob's death, his words have found their way into print. My deepest gratitude goes to Robert and Marietta Closson at Closson Press.

I started this.

Maybe we can finish it.

 

 

Greetings Visitor:

 

Hope this finds you and yours well.

 

The search for the truth about the fate of TB-25N serial number 44-29125 on January 31, 1956 has become as much a part of Pittsburgh history and lore as the incredible disappearance of the aircraft itself. There are troubling inconsistencies about the details and final minutes of the flight, as well as the actual number and identities of the personnel aboard. These conflicts appear in official military and government records, in newspaper reportage, in statements made by the survivors, and in accounts given by both rescuers and eyewitnesses.

 

This website serves as the primary outlet for the public dissemination of our ongoing pursuit of facts.

 

It is a work in progress.

 

Clicking on the links to the left will take you to various bits and pieces of the investigation. Please check back often for new clues.

 

Thank you for visiting the fastest growing and most comprehensive website about Pittsburgh's own unsolved mystery. We welcome your comments and contributions. Do you have another piece of this puzzle? Please contact me. Discretion is guaranteed.

 

Yours in research,

Robert A. Goerman

robert_a_goerman@yahoo.com

615 Earl Avenue

New Kensington, PA

15068-4801

724-335-0197

 

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

-- Theodore Roosevelt

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Suggested reading

Goerman, Robert A., Thirty Seconds over Pittsburgh, FATE magazine, May-June 2009 www.fatemag.com

Johns, Robert H., The Incident That Could Have Killed Pittsburgh, Closson Press, September 2008 www.clossonpress.com