B-25 Ghost Bomber

B-25 Ghost Bomber

On 31 January 1956, a Mitchell B-25 Bomber en route to Olmstead Air Force Base near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, ran out of fuel over the Pittsburgh area. The pilot was forced to ditch the plane in the Monongahela River near Homestead, Pennsylvania, after failing to make it to the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. The plane disappeared beneath the water and was never seen again.

Eyewitnesses soon came forward, claiming that the plane had been secretly removed from the river at night. Rumors and speculations about the bomber’s secret cargo spread quickly in the cold-war climate of industrial western Pennsylvania.

Flight B-25N No. 44–29125 originated at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, on 30 January. After an overnight stop at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, the flight continued to Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan. At Selfridge the plane was supposed to refuel, but it was discovered that it would take three hours. The crew believed that they had enough fuel to reach Olmstead, so they departed at 2:43 P.M. without refueling.

Over western Pennsylvania the fuel ran out and the pilot ditched in the Monongahela River at approximately 4:10 P.M. Recovery attempts began soon after, and the police and people working by the river rescued four crew members. The other two crew members drowned and their bodies were recovered later that year. Reports of a fifth and even a sixth man being pulled from the water circulated immediately, with newspaper stories appearing to verify this account.

According to the official record, the fifth man was a rescuer who went into the river to help, but others believed he was a secret passenger. Initially, the Coast Guard supervised the attempts to retrieve the aircraft, but on 9 February the operation was taken over by the Army Corps of Engineers. They searched for two weeks, but the plane was never located.

After the crash, many people came forward claiming to have seen the covert removal of the aircraft. Most of these accounts describe the removal of the plane by unidentified government agents in the middle of the night. These accounts often describe the plane being cut apart and loaded on a barge or train to be shipped off to a local military base.

Proponents of the secret removal theory cite a variety of evidence other than eyewitness reports to prove their case. It has been pointed out that it is difficult to lose a plane that is 12 feet tall with a 70foot wingspan in a river that has an average depth of 20–25 feet and a width of between 800 and 1,000 feet. In all other aircraft accidents involving the river, the planes have been recovered quickly.

Witnesses to the salvage operation reported seeing a helicopter fly over the crash site with a Geiger counter. They also point to problems in the official Air Force accident report. It contains discrepancies in the flight manifests and the cause factor analysis, and vital parts of the account of the crash are blacked out. Questions have also been raised about the original weight of the aircraft.

This led to speculation that the weight of the secret cargo caused the crew to underestimate the amount of fuel needed. Several researchers have suggested that the secret cargo was some type of nerve gas or chemical weapon, since there were experiments with chemical weapons conducted in Oklahoma at the time. Other theories about the makeup of the cargo include atomic materials, secret or state-of-the-art communications and radar technology, Mafia money, a Russian defector, Howard Hughes, and even Las Vegas showgirls.

In the late 1990s, new scientific searches for the plane have been conducted with the use of side scan sonar and divers. The B-25 Recovery Group and the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania have speculated that the plane may rest in a 40-foot-deep gravel pit on the bottom of the Monongahela River, which has been filled in with silt since the time of the accident. All of their searches to date have been unsuccessful, and some view this as further proof that there was a secret removal of the aircraft.