VENICE, Fla. - A World War II era fighter plane has been found off the coast of Venice, some 70-years after it crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. The amazing discovery is serving as a reminder of the role that Venice played in helping the U.S. emerge victorious in the war.
It's believed to be what's left of a P-47D Thunderbolt.
Visiting from Plano, Texas this summer, Wes Kirpach, his wife Kerry, and mother-in-law Paula Pratt were filming a dive just off the Venice coast. "We were actually diving for megalodon shark’s teeth." They soon found something else -- a plane that likely crashed seven decades ago as men and women trained for World War II.
"When I came around the front, I recognized the shape in the front…the characteristic World War II era plane, the cockpit shape.”
A few pieces were already broken off.
Newly found pieces have now been handed over to James Hagler and the Venice Museum and Archives. "A complete surprise someone could find something of this worth this close to Venice," says Hagler.
It makes sense, though. The Venice Army Air Base was situated where Venice Municipal Airport is now. Hagler says it was initially built to train mechanics, but soon became a training ground for pilots at the height of the war. Casings and shells are still being found by divers.
"Around 1942 we were actually flying aircraft out of here and training pilots. The crash is probably a result of one of those flights."
In fact, Wes was able to find old records which indicate that in October 1943, a P-47D manned by Thomas Schatzman crashed in the Gulf at exactly where he believes the decomposing plane sits now. "It just so happened there was a wreck that went down from the Venice airfield a mile and a half off the Venice strip."
Shatzman bailed out and went on to fight against the Japanese. Hagler says it's possible with a lot of hard work and money the entire plane could be recovered. "It would be an agency that would possibly want to preserve this and then maybe we could go to that agency and ask them to loan it to us for our museum."
Kirpach is fine with the possibility that his find of a lifetime could stay in Venice. "It took off from Venice, it crashed in Venice. It should stay in Venice."
Records indicate there are more planes that went down off the coast here.