(The following is the fifth 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 fifth feature, we introduce you to Anderson resident Mike Carpenter, a retired professional recovery diver who studied mishap since 1991.)
By STACEY PAGE
From 1991 until about 2006, Mike Carpenter tirelessly searched for the whereabouts of the Air Force T-33 that, with pilot and passenger aboard, went missing on Dec. 8, 1956, and was never found.
A trained professional recovery diver, Carpenter dedicated his life to recovering everything from weapons to jewelry and, sadly, even bodies. Although retired, the former Anderson Fire Department battalion chief remains dedicated to finding the T-33 and Lt. Frederick Davis III and Airman 2C Robert Wakins.
While not able to identify one specific reason that had driven him to solve the mystery of an 8,000 pound jet that seemingly vanished into thin air, Carpenter said, “(My wife) Marty and I were at Lake Wawasee at a condo in Buttermilk Bay when I read a 1978 article about the jet. I guess my interest was piqued. I cut the article out and put it in a diving scrapbook.”
In his search for the jet, Carpenter estimated he has spent thousands of dollars in time, phone calls and travel expenses interviewing the witnesses, researching initial search efforts and military records, scanning area lake bottoms with sonar and metal detecting equipment, and actually diving for the still elusive craft.
Carpenter had the help of a few local divers who joined him several times in the murky waters of area lakes including Robinson, Shoe, Kuhn, Big and Little Barbee lakes, Sawmill, Chapman, Pierceton, Durham, Sechrist and Big and Little Tippecanoe lakes. Little Tippecanoe is also known as James Lake and that is still where Carpenter believes the doomed craft lies today.
“There are good witness accounts, evidence of an oil slick. I believe it’s at the bottom of James Lake,” Carpenter said. “I feel with a high degree of certainty that we have been looking in the area with the preponderance of evidence. I feel we may be close.”
Skeptics who remember the 1956 event may suspect Carpenter’s search efforts are in vain. After all, the military searched for the T-33 over a six state area are including New York, Massachusettes, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. But for those people Carpenter said, “In 1956 the technology wasn’t there to find this thing. Now, (after 55 years) the jet is sunk in the muck and silt. It’s there.”
And, if the sonar images that Carpenter captured in the early 2000s are accurate, his account that the jet and the two men are entombed in the muck of James Lake may be right.