Plan to restore 1958 plane stalls
SPICER -- Ambitious plans to restore the Cessna L-19 Birddog airplane recovered nearly 47 years after its fatal crash in Green Lake are apparently themselves the victim of a different but equally tragic plane crash.
No progress has been made on restoring the plane since the April 23, 2007, plane crash that took the life of Gene Underland of Spicer. Underland, 64, was an accomplished pilot and aviation enthusiast who had been leading the restoration project on behalf of the city of Spicer and the Spicer American Legion.
Members of the Legion had led the effort to recover the airplane from the bottom of Green Lake in August 2005. The group won permission from the U.S. Army to restore the aircraft as part of plans with the city of Spicer to create a memorial for it.
Doug Dietz, of the Spicer Legion, said the airplane restoration effort is not going anywhere. It is not likely to progress unless someone should unexpectedly step forward with funds for it. "I really don't see anything happening,'' he said.
Original plans had called for restoring the plane and putting it on display as a memorial to Capt. Richard P. Carey of the Minnesota National Guard. He lost his life when the plane crashed into Green Lake on Oct. 14, 1958. His body was recovered shortly after, but the plane had remained hidden in the depths of the lake until local anglers with an underwater camera accidentally discovered it in the summer of 2005.
Dietz said the loss of Underland was a major setback to the restoration, as was the more recent decision by Jean Spaulding to leave the Spicer Economic Development Agency for a position with the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission. Underland and Spaulding provided much of the leadership for the restoration, he explained.
But Dietz said there are other factors making the plane's restoration unlikely as well.
He pointed out that Underland and others working on the plane discovered that it was in far worse shape than originally believed. Estimated costs for its restoration kept rising and were in the range of $60,000 to $80,000.
The L-19 Birddog planes were light aircraft and consequently not made of materials that would hold up well if exposed to the elements. As a result, early plans to restore and place the aircraft on display outside had to be scuttled and plans were made to house it in a building. The need for a building added greatly to the overall project costs.
The Spicer Legion had been seeking $200,000 in state funds for the project. Dietz said a return to St. Paul in the current fiscal situation is not very likely.
The plane is currently kept in storage on pallets. Its wings were so badly deteriorated that they have been removed.
Dietz said the group has put out word to people who might be restoring L-19 Birddogs in case there is anyone interested in parts of the plane. He and others would prefer to see the plane used for restoration rather than sold as aluminum scrap.
Hopes of developing a memorial to Capt. Carey and telling the interesting story of the plane and the search for it through the years are not lost, however. Dietz said there has been discussion about using some of the recovered artifacts -- such as the parachute -- as part of a display.