In early December 2007, the shrimp boat, “Lindsay Nicole,” while dragging for shrimp off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida, got its shrimp net caught on a large heavy object. The boat captain tried to free the net, and the boat, but to no avail. Shrimp nets are expensive and he didn’t want to cut it, plus, he had been trawling in a very bountiful area, and was going to be able to pay some bills.
After a lot of tugging, the object must have broken off to whatever it was attached, and the boat started moving again and pulling with something very, very heavy in the net. Slowly, the shrimp boat made it’s way back to its home port in Mayport, Florida. With a lot of help of a crane, the net revealed what appeared to be a landing gear from an airplane or a helicopter.
On December 7, 2007, the Jacksonville edition of the Florida Times Union newspaper published an article on the discovery, captioned, “There’s nothing shrimp-like about this big catch,” by Charlie Patton.
According to the article, someone suggested that the landing gear may have been from a WWII B-17. At first, the shrimp boat captain thought he may have hooked on to part of a helicopter, since Navy helicopters frequently trained in the area. The Navy came out and took a look, but nothing seemed to happen.
Several weeks later, Roy and his friend, Mike Collins, were having breakfast in a small diner just across the river from Mayport. They were talking about the unidentified landing gear and noted that they had heard nothing about the discovery since the newspaper article. Well, the landing gear was probably still at the seafood company, which was located not far from the diner, so they decided to go take a look.
And they did, and sure enough, the object was the landing gear from an airplane, certainly not a helicopter, but what type of airplane? Roy walked around the landing gear and saw that the wheel area appeared to have a double pneumatic brake system. Mike took some photos, and the two went off to do little research. Shortly, Roy called Mike and said, “It’s a B-24”.
Mike said, “Huh?” Why would a B-24 be around the Jacksonville area? All the bases and auxiliary fields were Navy. The Navy version of the B-24 was the PB4Y. The PB4Y-1 was the twin tail aircraft, and the PB4Y-2 was the single rudder aircraft, the Privateer.
Roy sent Mike’s photos of the recovered landing gear to the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida. The response from the Museum was that the landing gear depicted in the photos was positively that of either a B-24 or a PB4Y.
But which plane is it, and what happened to it?
A PB4Y USN Aircraft Airframe History List was found on the Aviation Archeology website. Roy searched over all of about 700 PB4Y’s listed and found none that had crashed in the Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Mayport area. Looking further a some B-24’s which were diverted to the Navy, came the hit. A B-24M manufactured for the USAAF was diverted to the Navy auxiliary field at Jacksonville Municipal Airport in February/March 1945. The aircraft was listed in the airframe history as follows:
Number 90196 PB4Y-1 B-24M-10-CO 44-42001 441110 450203 OTU-2 VB-4
Wrecked 450417 FL, Mayport, 3mi. due east of OTU-2 VB-4(Naas Jax Muni A/P) FEB-MAR;OTU-2 VB-4, training flight, fire in air during camera gunnery, flat spin, 3mi.due east of Mayport,FL(12/kiiled, 1/bailed safely), Loss date 17 Apr 1945 Stricken 30 APR 1945.
The crash report, also obtained from Aviation Archeology, gave the sad details of a new plane on a routine camera gunnery training mission, apparently stricken with a fire which developed in the area of the bow turret and cockpit, the crew unable to get their parachutes on in time to bail out, and the lone passenger who remained in his parachute and bailed out successfully.
Unless the Navy can prove differently, it looks like Roy was right. It was a B-24.