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    Sunken bomber missing in action

    Part of a man-made reef, the 50-year-old aircraft may have drifted off during Hurricane Gordon. Other military hardware may be sunk instead.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


    A Navy bomber, which was sunk in the Gulf of Mexico on July 2, has gone AWOL.

    The P2V Neptune bomber was to be the anchor of the soon-to-be dedicated Veterans Reef, which is 11 miles west of Dunedin's Hurricane Pass.

    However, a dive crew, sent down because officials could not find it from the surface, found no sign of it on Oct. 5.

    The Cold War-era bomber is missing, gone, lost at sea. The only evidence left behind was its landing gear and a piece of its tail section -- and together those don't give officials much of a clue.

    "It's a sad thing," said Norman Roche, a public relations specialist for Pinellas County Utilities. "It was a neat idea. The theory behind it was to use it as an icon, but Mother Nature had other things in store for her."

    Strong undercurrents resulting from Hurricane Gordon in September may be to blame. It is likely the currents rocked the 40,000-pound plane until steel bolts popped. It is anyone's guess what happened next. It either was destroyed or drifted away.

    "If it was going to float, I think it would have surfaced by now," Roche said.

    What about pranksters?

    "I guess anything is possible, but that would be an awfully arduous task," he said.

    The aircraft was secured to the deck of 150-foot barge and sunk about 43 feet to rest on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. It had been part of a military-scrap reef, a 20-year project to build a milelong underwater barrier using military equipment as a tribute to veterans.

    Fifty-three Neptune P2Vs were produced by Lockheed between August 1948 and January 1950. This particular plane was used by the U.S. Navy from April 1950 until April 1959, and completed most of its missions on the West Coast.

    It is likely the county will find a tank or another military plane to replace the wayward bomber. Until then, Pinellas County officials have issued a plea to the Clearwater harbormaster, Caladesi Island State Park, Honeymoon Island State Park and Sand Key Park to be on the lookout for the plane.

    Boaters and divers with information about that aircraft may call Pinellas County Utilities at (727) 464-3896.

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