In addition to the Sturgeon Bay shipyard's role in World War II, the waters of Lake Michigan helped train U.S. Navy pilots for missions launched from aircraft carriers. Now efforts are underway to find aircraft lost on the lake during training runs. The Underwater Branch of the Naval History and Heritage Command is looking to find over 100 plane wrecks on Lake Michigan. They were among the aircraft assigned to the carriers USS Wolverine and USS Sable. Both ships were actually converted side-wheel cruise ships used specifically for training. While U.S. Coast Guard patrols would rescue pilots of downed planes and use buoys to mark the sites for later recovery, many of those planes could not be recovered and their positions were forgotten. Rhys Kuzdas, Door County Maritime Museum curator, says records of the training missions are hard to come by, which makes it hard to know where to start a search. While most of the training missions were conducted closer to Chicago and southeastern Wisconsin, Kuzdas says records show the USS Wolverine did come close to Door and Kewaunee counties on one outing.
Last summer, the Research Vessel Storm conducted sonar scans at nine potential crash sites on Lake Michigan. Sonar images turned up two confirmed sunken aircraft. Future surveys are planned.
(USS Wolverine photo courtesy of US Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation/Sonar Inset image courtesy of NOAA)