Pilot's son hopeful for salvage of plane
Officials: Closer study of WWII craft needed
By Ed Zieralski Union-Tribune Staff Writer
2:00 a.m. July 29, 2009
E.D. Frazar, who served in San Diego, flew an SB2C-4 Helldiver during his Navy service. - Courtesy of Richard Frazar Plane Recovery A Navy SB2C-4 Helldiver sank into Lower Otay Reservoir in 1945 and has remained there in obscurity until February, when an angler discovered it with his fish finder. A&T Recovery's divers shot the video during an examination of the wreckage. by Union-Tribune
Read past stories about the plane at uniontrib.com/more/raising-helldiver.
E.D. Frazar of Texas enlisted as a naval aviation cadet.
Navy pilot E.D. Frazar prepared to board an SB2C-4 Helldiver.
Recovering the Navy bomber that was ditched 64 years ago in Lower Otay Reservoir will require further analysis that involves dredging, said officials overseeing the project.
"We have to get rid of silt that's covering the plane so we can study the plane's structure and integrity," said retired Capt. Bob Rasmussen, director of the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla.
If the SB2C-4 Helldiver is salvaged and restored, it will go to his exhibit space - not the San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park. Jim Kidrick, president and CEO of the local museum, had expressed interest in keeping the World War II aircraft in San Diego.
"I'd like to clear up that there is no conflict between Jim Kidrick and me," Rasmussen said. "There won't be any argument as to where the plane will go. It's coming to Pensacola."
Richard Ansel Frazar of Texas, the eldest child of the pilot who flew the Helldiver, hopes all the engineering, financial and bureaucratic challenges can be worked out. It could take months to years to secure permits and raise about $500,000 for recovery and restoration of the bomber.
"As a retired Marine, I have a deep understanding of the significance of these things to veterans and patriots of all generations and ages," Frazar said.
The Helldiver has remained at the bottom of the lake since May 28, 1945, when its engine failed during a training mission and pilot E.D. Frazar had to ditch the plane. Frazar and his Army gunner, Joseph Metz, safely swam to shore as the aircraft sank.
In February, bass fishermen Duane Johnson and Curtis Howard found the plane on Johnson's Humminbird fish finder. Their discovery eventually led to the involvement of San Diego reservoir officials, Rasmussen and the aircraft-salvaging company A&T Recovery in Chicago.
Crews need to remove sediment from around the Helldiver to examine it more precisely, said A&T Recovery co-owner Taras Lyssenko. His divers inspected the wreckage July 23.
"That plane is too buried, just buried in mud," Lyssenko said. "We really didn't know the plane was that buried."
The San Diego Water Department and the state health department will have to approve the next phase of the project.
"They want to dredge on both sides to get a better look at the plane," said Nelson Manville, assistant city lakes manager in charge of the ranger-divers program. "We've done a lot of dredging. We'll offer our team to help, if it's needed."
San Diego will install a containment boom around the crash site to prevent the plane's fuel, hydraulic fluid or other hazardous materials from leaking into the city's supply of drinking water, Manville said.
In Houston, Richard Frazar said the Helldiver news has united his extended family "in an emotional and exciting way."
"My family has gone through some serious dysfunctions since my father died" of a heart attack in 1979, he said. "This discovery has brought the family closer together, and that's the way my dad would have wanted it."
The Frazar clan gathered for a meal last night, and the major topic was E.D. Frazar's life.
He was born April 11, 1923, in the tiny community of Winfree, Texas. His mother died when he was 9, and his father was left to raise nine children on the meager income earned from selling whatever fish he could catch from the nearby Trinity River.
Eventually, the father realized he couldn't provide for the entire household. So he sent some of his children, including 11-year-old E.D. Frazar, to live with relatives.
After conflicts arose between E.D. and his caretaker aunt, he struck out on his own with some clothes stuffed into a cardboard box. He stayed in a rice field where farmers had built a small shed to shelter their animals.
"He told me that he walked into town daily to find work and get whatever food the staff at one of the hotels could sneak to him," Richard Frazar said.
Leaders of the local Lions Club became aware of E.D.'s situation and asked if anyone could help. Club member Leonard Ansel and his wife, Lela, agreed to adopt the boy because they had no child of their own.
They raised E.D. and eventually celebrated his graduation from high school, then sent him to a military junior college in Kerrville, Texas. A physics teacher there taught students how to fly airplanes, and that sparked E.D. Frazar's love of aviation.
In 1943, Frazar combined his passion for flying and his sense of national duty by enlisting as a naval aviation cadet. He trained in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Pensacola before being transferred to San Diego.
After World War II ended, he left the active-duty Navy in December 1945.
In honor of his adopted parents, E.D. Frazar named the first of his five children Richard Ansel Frazar. He went into ranching and then worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture until his death at age 56.
Growing up, Richard Frazar heard his father profess a lasting fondness for flying Navy aircraft.
"He missed being in the skies," Richard Frazar said. "My dad was a very, very patriotic person. He was just part of that whole generation of people who didn't hesitate to serve their country."
In the Union-Tribune on Page B1