Unsolved Mystery – Part 4

An Air Force T-33 trainer jet like these pictured, disappeared seemingly without a trace in 1956. At least some people believe the wreckage lies underneath a Kosciusko County lake with its pilot and passenger still on board.

(The following is the fourth in a series regarding the mysterious disappearance of an Air Force T-33 trainer jet that, on Dec. 8, 1956, went missing. It is believed the T-33 lies at the bottom of a Kosciusko County lake where it has become an underwater grave for its pilot and passenger.

In this fourth feature, information taken from actual witness accounts and military documents reveal why evidence suggests the jet may have crash landed in Kosciusko County.

All information was made available by Anderson resident Mike Carpenter, a retired professional recovery diver who studied mishap since 1991.)

By STACEY PAGE
Editor
[email protected] 

For the many witnesses who heard or saw something in the skies above Kosciusko County late at night on Dec. 8, 1956, Dec. 9 dawned a day filled with more questions than answers.

Despite his wife’s insistence that he was dreaming, Alan “Googie” Ritter waited for daybreak and again walked to the edge of James Lake to further investigate what he believed to be a plane crash. He saw no debris, but he puzzled over what appeared to be an oil slick that glazed portions of the lake.

Further east, near what is today Camp Crosley, Wyatt Weaver was also observing what he presumed to be oil floating on the surface of the water. Still further away, on the south and southeast banks of the lake, Jim Bachelder was also seeing the oil slick. The film even extended into Big Tippecanoe Lake where a caretaker who worked for Sam Dungan on the northernmost shore, reported seeing it.

Although it would be nearly two weeks before anyone mentioned seeing the oil slick, witnesses to the events of Dec. 9 began calling local newspapers after news reports revealed an Air Force jet was lost shortly after reporting over Goshen.

David Bachelder said he remembered his father, Jim, talking of a ham radio operator in Oswego who reported hearing the pilot’s mayday signal. The ham radio operator, however, was never located.

There was also an unsubstantiated claim that a Goshen Civil Air Patrol operator conversed with the pilot, Lt. Frederick Davis III, and told him to eject when Davis allegedly said, “I need to set this thing down.” Davis allegedly told the operator he could not eject because he had a passenger.

Later, military documents would note the T-33 may have experienced a generator problem and lost all radio contact capabilities immediately after reporting over Goshen. On the Air Force flight mishap report, the words “flame out” were penned in the summary section; a bit of evidence that would account for the streaks of fire some witnesses claimed to have seen.

On Dec. 12, 1956, the military announced there was no hope for finding the men alive.

Two days later, with military air and ground searches well under way in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, the Goshen Civil Air Patrol and the United States Air Force search and recovery squads, acting on the greatest number of witness accounts, began to turn their attention solely on Indiana.

It would be another week and a total of 13 days after the T-33 jet, pilot and passenger Airman 2C Robert Watkins disappeared before the five-state search was narrowed even further to include an area in the vicinity of Angola and all of Kosciusko County. But if actions spoke louder than what the military would verbally reveal, the Air Force was likely certain the jet crashed somewhere in this county of more than 100 lakes as the search command post was established in Warsaw.

Finally, on Dec. 21, with evidence of an oil slick on James Lake now revealed, all search efforts were focused solely on Kosciusko County.

While the military and search volunteers scoured the county by air and ground as weather permitted, the search command post appealed for the assistance of all rural county residents, asking them to search fields, wooded areas and even swampland for any traces of the jet.

On Jan. 2, 1957, three weeks after the jet and men vanished, all search efforts were abandoned.

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