F4U Corsairs in flying condition are worth roughly $1 million each.

PORTLAND (AP) – A team of explorers hopes to resolve once and for all the location and condition of two British warplanes that crashed in Sebago Lake on a training mission in World War II.

But the greater question is whether the Corsairs can be salvaged even if they’re located in good condition.

The British Royal Navy does not want the sites to be disturbed. That’s the Maine State Museum’s position, as well.

The gull-winged fighter planes based at Brunswick Naval Air Station were on a training mission when they collided over the lake on May 16, 1944. Killed were Royal Navy pilots Vaughan Reginald Gill and Raymond L. Knott.

There are only a handful of F4U Corsairs in flying condition in the United States and they’re worth roughly $1 million each, aviation experts say.

Even a muck-covered hulk is worth $600,000 to $800,000 because the airplane can be restored as an original Corsair, said John James, director of public affairs at the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Crews will use sonar and video cameras over the next few days to assess the location of the planes and their current condition, said Peter Hess, a maritime lawyer from Wilmington, Del. The team has authorization to confirm the location and identity of the planes, Hess said.

“We’re trying to document them,” he said. “The Corsairs haven’t been found yet … they may have some historical significance and may be in good shape.”

In June 1999, Wayne Peabody and Bruce Stephenson used historical accounts of the crash and information gathered from sidescan sonar to narrow their search to a part of the lake that’s nearly 300 feet deep.

Using the radar, they spotted the outline of what’s believed to be one of the planes.

Hess estimated it would take days, not weeks, for crews from Bancroft Contracting of South Paris and SSR Inc., an oceanographic survey company based in Jupiter, Fla., to finish their work.

The crews are working on behalf of Hess and Historic Aircraft Restoration Corp., a group interested in preserving items of importance in aviation.

If the planes are located and in good condition, there could be a legal fight because of interest from collectors.

It’s the British Royal Navy’s position that the warplanes are grave sites and shouldn’t be disturbed, even if salvage companies find no evidence of human remains inside the planes.

“The British government has been approached on a number of occasions. We always refuse to give permission, because these two aircraft are the final resting place of the pilots,” said Peter MacDonald, a defense ministry official based in Portsmouth, England.

The Maine State Museum in Augusta, which also could make a claim for the plane, also would like to see the planes left undisturbed.

“Our intention is to leave it right where it is. It is a war grave,” said Sheila McDonald, the museum’s assistant director.


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