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Russian team searches for lost Soviet-era bomber

Posted: October 6, 2013 - 12:07am

ANCHORAGE — A Russian team recently spent time in Alaska searching for a Soviet bomber that went missing during a 1937 North Pole flight with a planned stop in Fairbanks.

The team is being assisted by the Russian Geographical Society in its search that began in August from the North Slope village of Nuiqsut, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The Russian bomber — a Bolkhovitinov DB-A — took off with much fanfare near Moscow on Aug. 12, 1937. The pilot, Sigizmund Levanevsky, had planned to touch down in Fairbanks, then continue to Chicago and New York.

Documentary filmmaker Yuri Salnikov led this year’s expedition to search for the wreckage.

Searchers didn’t find the wreckage, but they make progress that could help pinpoint the plane’s final underwater resting place, believed to be between two barrier islands about five miles from the coast.

“We got interesting new information,” Salnikov said.

Less than 20 hours after leaving Moscow, the bomber’s crew crossed the North Pole without incident. But about 300 miles later, the crew sent out a message that there was trouble with an engine, and that the plane was facing heavy winds and losing altitude. In a follow-up message, they indicated an emergency landing was imminent.

This year’s search was following up on previous reports that Inupiat hunters with binoculars had watched a plane go down at Oliktok Point, east of the Colville River. The changing season in northern Alaska has put an end to the fieldwork, but Salnikov hopes to continue searching next year.

“It depends on funding,” he said.

In their North Slope search, the searchers spoke with locals familiar with the area who said the islands are plainly visible from shore in good weather and that observers with binoculars would have no problem seeing a large plane.

Searchers also met with elder Jane Brower of Nuiqsut, who was seven years old at the time of the bomber’s flight. Brower told them that few people had seen any airplanes and at the time they talked about the bomber and the roar of its engines.

Searchers also learned that whalers in the area of the reported crash hit something lurking just under the water a few years ago. It was something hard and large that ripped a hole in the boat’s fiberglass hull.

Former state archaeologist Dave McMahan said the location near the mouth of the Colville River, with a mix of fresh and salt water, bodes well for the preservation of the aluminum plane, if it’s there. But he noted there is the possibility that ice would have scoured the bottoms of the shallows there.

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