By Emory Bryan, The News On 6
UNDATED -- A sunken treasure with ties to Tulsa has been found. During World War II, Tulsa had a Douglas Aircraft assembly plant, making B-24 bombers.
The last one off the line flew just 19 missions - before it was lost. But now, the "TulsAmerican" has been found.
The plane was well known because of a campaign to raise money to pay for it. After a bombing run into Germany, in December, 1944, it was attacked by fighters - and the plane crashed in the ocean just a few miles from a runway.
It was a milestone from Tulsa's wartime history. Now the TulsAmerican - the last B-24 Liberator built in Tulsa - is no longer missing.
"It's amazing to just find the airplane. Over 18,000 built, what are the odds we would find this one?" said researcher Kevin Gray.
The aircraft was one of 952 copies to roll off the line at Tulsa's Douglas Plant. It was a big event - and plant employees helped raise the money to pay for it.
"The neat thing was that Tulsans paid for this airplane with their sweat and labor, built the airplane, signed the airplane with their names and addresses, painted the nose art on it and sent it off with a hope and a prayer for the combat crew, so very much a part of Tulsa," Gray said.
The TulsAmerican went down just a mile off Vis Island, off the coast of Croatia. The Adriatic Sea there is about 175 feet deep.
After six decades on the bottom - it's covered in coral. The plane is upside down with the landing gear extended. A diver found the aircraft in December - and another dive on the site this summer identified it as the TulsAmerican.
First Lieutenant Val Miller was a bombardier on the plane. He survived the crash - and now lives in Oklahoma City where he is still a practicing attorney at age 86.
"The plane just dropped over and plunged into the Adriatic Sea, and the plane broke up into pieces, and somehow I was able to get out of the wreckage," said Val Miller, crew member of the TulsAmerican.
These images from Croatian Television were taken by a documentary film crew. They show the end of an important chapter in Tulsa history.
"That last mission, it got hit by fighters; it got hit by flack; it staggered back on just a couple of engines and still managed to get seven of its guys home," Miller said.