On December 28, 1944, Ensign William E. Forbes attempted to takeoff from USS Sable on the waters of Lake Michigan. But at a critical moment, the engine failed, causing his FM-2 Wildcat to pitch and roll over into the freezing waters.
Miraculously, Forbes escaped the plane and survived. The Wildcat, however, sank to the bottom of the lake, destined to remain for almost 70 years.
On December 7, 2012, the Wildcat was recovered from 200 feet of water, seeing the light of day for the first time in a lifetime. It turns out the Lake is full of crashed planes from WWII; remnants from training days off of Navy Pier. Although knowledge of the planes has existed for years, it's never been more imperative to rescue them. The planes are now covered in algae and mussels, creatures that are quickly degrading the aircrafts. Senior Conservator Greg Ward of the Air Zoo adds to the emergency of the situation: "It used to be they were better off just sitting on the bottom until we could afford to pull another one out. Now they’re predicting five more years they’ll be virtually worthless. I mean, not savable.” And the Air Zoo of Portage, Michigan is doing everything they can to avoid that heartbreaking reality.
With a track record of a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, a Goodyear FG-1D Corsair, and a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless already under their belt, the Michigan museum is well-equipped to handle another restoration. Each of their former planes had also been rescued from Lake Michigan, though it's estimated that there's still around one hundred planes resting at the bottom of the lake.
When restoration on the Wildcat is complete, it will return to Lake Michigan, although this time, it will remain above the waves. Thanks to the efforts of the Air Zoo, visitors can come and visit Navy Pier and see a little piece of WWII history brought back to life.