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Pittsburgh B-25 Monongahela River Mystery

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(Research Notes: This official record is part of the releasable portion of the TB-25N Aircraft Mishap Report, 31 January 1956 received regarding a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request of 18 March 1994. Every effort has been made to faithfully reproduce this text, including poor punctuation, capitalization, and misspellings.)

31 January 1956

Received word of downed B-25 bomber from Base Operations approximately 1630 hours.  Joined Major Pamacreta at Base Operations 1700 hours and drove to scene of aircraft accident in AF staff car.  Arrived at AMOCO bulk storage plant south side Monongahela River near the Hays Street Bridge approximately 1830 hours, then proceeded to St. Joseph Hospital and interviewed M/Sgt Alleman. Returned to base.



1 February 1956

Arrived AMOCO (American Oil Company) storage area 0930 and established headquarters. Dragging operations began immediately under the direction of Lt. Kilkeary, officer in charge of River Patrol, Pittsburgh city Police Department. Dragging continued throughout the morning from the river patrol launch and one skiff. We joined in the P.M. by two other skiffs and crews under the supervision of Mr. Whitehead, US Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh district. Several underwater objects were detected in the evening and buoys were placed to mark the objects. One object in particular was believed to be the aircraft. W. O. Devaney, Captain, Coast Guard Cutter "Forsythia," was contacted at the Sewickley Depot and he agreed to place a lighted buoy over this object. Boarded the Coast Guard Cutter "Forsythia" at the foot of South Sixth Street at approximately 1730. Arrived at AMOCO at 1800 hours. Returned to Sewickley Depot via "Forsythia," arriving 2200 hours. Returned to base.



2 February 1956

Joined River Patrol 0900 hours at foot of South Sixth and Carson Streets, placed call to J & L Steel Company, US Steel Company, and US Corps of Engineers requesting assistance in locating downed aircraft and raising objects marked in the river. Talked to Mr. Harrington, US Army Corps of Engineers, who stated that a formal request through channels would have to be made in order for the Corps of Engineers' equipment to be utilized.

J & L Steel Company responded by sending the motor vessel "Aliquippa" to the scene. This vessel could not be utilized for any length of time. However, the Captain contacted by radio Captain Bainbridge, Skipper of a motor vessel belonging to the Ohio River Barge Lines, who agreed to use his vessel to investigate the objects by "Sounding Lines" and "Probing Poles." This continued until about 1400 hours, at this time the Coast Guard Cutter "Forsythia" arrived and dragging operations continued using a 350-pound anchor and 2 inch manila tow rope. At 1800 hours an object was hit and brought to the surface, which was believed to be a wing of the aircraft.



2 February 1956 (Cont’d)

The anchor slipped off the object and it sank back into the river. Dragging continued until approximately 1900 hours. The anchor caught on an object and snapped the tow line, losing the anchor. A smaller anchor with steel cable was rigged up and it too was lost in one pass over the area. Returned to base.



3 February 1956      (NO SEARCH CONDUCTED - Goerman)

Suspended dragging operations pending manufacture of special "grappling hook", which was being made up by the Coraopolis Tool and Machine Company.

One hundred (100) feet of five eighths (5/8) inch cable was borrowed from the Army Ordnance, Field Maintenance Section, located on Neville Island.

Contacted Mr. Harrington, US Army Corps of Engineers, and arranged to have the Dredging Barge "Monello II" moved in for dragging operations.



4 February 1956

Joined River Patrol at their base at 1000 hours, where we waited until the "Monello" moved upstream. The "Monello" arrived at 1430 hours and began making one hundred and fifty foot sweeps with its crane and bucket. The area where the airplane was believed to have been was swept and nothing was found. This type of operation continued until about 1930 hours. By this time, fog had settled over the area and it became too dangerous to continue operations. In the meantime, we had been joined by the Coast Guard Cutter "Forsythia", which proceeded to drag the main channel with the special "Grappling Hook". They too suspended operations at 1930 hours and returned to the Sewickley Depot.



5 February 1956

Dragging operations began at 0800 hours by the "Monello II". The procedure followed was to make 150 foot sweeps across every 20 feet, moving downstream. This procedure proved extremely slow, so the barges were rerigged in order to drag a 150 foot 4 inch steel cable connected at one end of the barge and extending to the crane of the "Monello II".



5 February 1956 (Cont’d)

This procedure proved to be very effective in that a large area could be covered in a relatively short time by allowing the barge to drift with the current.

An area extending from where the plane was seen to go down to approximately two miles downstream was covered in about four hours. Two-thirds of the width of the river was covered without results except for a sunken wooden barge and two telephone poles. Operations were suspended at 1900 hrs.



6 February 1956

Dragging operations began at 0800 hours and the area directly above the pumping station was dragged without results. Operations were suspended about noon by order of Colonel Roddy and the barge proceeded downstream to its home base at Neville Island.



February 7, 1956     (NO SEARCH CONDUCTED - Goerman)



8 February 1956

Captain Johnson, AMC Liaison Officer, arrived this station from Olmstead AFB in an H21 Helicopter. Major Haydin, Captain Mangone and I joined Captain Johnson and flew to the scene of the B-25 crash. We made several low level passes up and down the river, but no sign of the wreckage could be seen. After a flight of about 45 minutes, we returned to Greater Pittsburgh AFB. It was decided that the US Army Corp of Engineers would be utilized to continue the search for the missing B-25.



9 February 1956

Dragging operations were resumed today by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The same procedure as before, using the large steel rope, barge and crane combination was used. An area approximately 3/4 of a mile long was covered without results.



10 February 1956

Departed Greater Pittsburgh Airport at 0830 and arrived at Police River Headquarters at 0910. Contacted Sergeant of Police and was informed that search is not being conducted by police at present time. Proceeded to above J & L Steel Plant where I was picked up by corps of engineer personnel. After contacting Mr. Sholes, I was informed that one sweep had been accomplished prior to my arrival, about seventy (70) feet off shore on the right bank from point of last sighting of the aircraft to the Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge. A distance of approximately two (2) miles. Two more sweeps were made, spaced approximately fifty (50) feet further out toward center without success. Further, the area adjacent to the ice breakers was swept but without contact. At 1430 hours Mr. Sholes informed me that the "Monello" was to return to Neville Island and that on Monday, 13 February 1956, detection equipment would be used on the "Redstone."



February 11, 1956     (NO SEARCH CONDUCTED - Goerman)



February 12, 1956     (NO SEARCH CONDUCTED - Goerman)



13 February 1956

Departed Air Base at 1000 hours for Monongahela River.  Arrived at Police River Patrol Headquarters at 1035 hours and proceeded up river in police launch making contact with Corps of Engineers boat "Redstone" at 1100 hours. Mr Holmes, Corps of Engineers, in charge of operations was contacted and procedure for search was outlined to me. An "Echo" Depth Recorder was being used and the plan of operation was to proceed up river on the right side about 50 feet off shore from the Triangle or Point, to the AMOCO storage area and then proceed down river on the left bank for the same distance. A crew of six (6) men, including Mr. Holmes, were being utilized aboard the "Redstone". Departed "Redstone" at 1400 hours after uneventful cruise. Search was to continue the rest of today and tomorrow.



14 February 1956

Operations continued today using "Echo" recorder mounted on the tow boat "Redstone." An area  6.2 miles long was covered, extending from the "Point" down to Elmsworth Dam. Four sweeps were made of this area without results. Operations stopped at 1800 hours and the search abandoned. Mr. Harrington was notified at 1515 hours.

Suggested reading

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

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