Sunday, September 6, 2009

Discovery of WW II Seaplane Confirmed as that of Fremont Native Lt. Col. Jack Zimmerman

More often than we might think, the past meets the present. In 1996, relatives donated materials to the Hayes Center, documenting the aviation career of Fremont native and pioneering pilot Lt. Col. Jack Zimmerman. They included his log books, photographs of his planes and fellow pilots, and articles appearing in newspapers and aviation newsletters.

There was no doubt that Zimmerman was one of those daring, early pilots whose every flight was filled with danger. He was one of a handful who catapulted TWA’s fledgling airline into a leader in the commercial aviation industry.

Zimmerman logged more than two million flight miles, crossed the Atlantic more than 100 times, flew TWA’s first Boeing 307, set numerous aviation speed records, and piloted TWA’s first flight into New York City's LaGuardia Airport. He also flew secret flights for the FBI. A 1942 biography, The Million Miler, the Story of an Air Pilot, chronicled Zimmerman’s aviation career

It was almost a given that he would enlist in the Army Air Corps when WW II broke out. In charge of a fleet of seaplanes that ferried supplies to Allied Forces in England, Zimmerman was the most senior pilot. In November 1942, Zimmerman’s seaplane foundered on take-off in rough seas. With seawater rushing into the fuselage through a damaged wheel well, the PBY Catalina
sank instantly. Fishermen from Quebec’s Longue-Pointe village rescued four of the nine men, but Jack Zimmerman was not among them.

The dark, cold waters of the Atlantic swallowed up the seaplane along with its brave pilot and four crew members – seemingly lost forever. That was until August 7th when I received a call from a Canadian who was searching for information on the Internet about Jack Zimmerman..

He said, “Didn’t you hear? It was in the New York Times, Bloomberg News , and in all of the Canadian newspapers. Parks Canada believes they have discovered the plane of Jack Zimmerman, the pilot you wrote about in your article!” He told me that during a routine survey, underwater archaeologists found the wreckage of a well-preserved seaplane in the area where Zimmerman and his crew were lost 67 years ago.
Side-scan sonar indicated the plane appeared to be well preserved. Parks Canada said that “in collaboration with the U. S. Government, they will be launching an operation to formally confirm the identity of the wreck and to explore the possibility of eventually recovering the remains of missing crew members. Parks Canada is dedicated to managing the discovery with the dignity and respect owed to lost American soldiers.”

On August 21st, Parks Canada, using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), confirmed conclusively that the PBY they had discovered was that piloted by Lt. Col. Jack Zimmerman. You can watch a video of the underwater archaeologists as they view the downed aircraft.

This post is an updated variation of an article published in the September 2009 issue of Lifestyles 2000.

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