A World War II Mystery

Two Maine explorers are using a remote control device outfitted with a camera to search the bottom of Sebago Lake for a pair of World War II fighter planes.

Bruce Stephenson and Wayne Peabody found evidence of the aircraft last year and they've returned with the high-tech device to continue their search in the deepest part of the lake. They hope to solve a mystery of what happened to two British Corsairs that crashed in 1944.

Using witness accounts of the crash and information gathered from sidescan sonar, they have narrowed the search to a part of the lake where they believe the planes lie 330 feet below the surface. If the readings locate the fighter planes, Peabody and Stephenson could solve a 55-year-old mystery.

The British fighters were on a training mission from nearby Brunswick Naval Air Station when they apparently collided over the lake, fell from the sky and sank. Royal Navy pilots Vaughan Reginald Gill and Raymond L. Knott were killed in the accident.

A Navy diving bell was sent to the scene after the crash on May 16, 1944, but all that was ever recovered was an antenna and a headrest.

Cmdr. Colin Sharp of the Royal Navy has said in the past that the British government prefers the pilots' watery graves not be disturbed. But if the remains can be recovered, the men will be buried with full military honors, he said.

Ownership of the planes is unclear. Several entities would likely make claims, including the Royal Navy, the Maine State Museum and U.S. Navy, in addition to Peabody and Stephenson. Stephenson is a diver from Cape Elizabeth who owns Maritime Trade Routes Inc. Peabody is president of Submerged Exploration Inc.

If salvaged, a World War II Corsair in restorable condition would be worth nearly $1 million, according to aviation historians. But Stephenson said owning the planes is not his motivation. It's the thrill of solving a half-century-old mystery. "As long as it's calm enough," he said, "we're going to be out there."