Historic plane could be heading to Juneau airport

Posted: Sunday, April 30, 2000

PETERSBURG (AP) -- A 1940s-vintage DC-3, left to rust near this Southeast Alaska community for more than a decade, may soon be moved to Juneau to be spiffed up and put on display.

The plane, known as Dixie, has had an interesting life: a tour of duty in World War II, voyages around the world hauling cargo, and in 1989, a distressed landing that left it under 100 feet of water.

The next chapter for Dixie could be a makeover. The organization that runs the Southeast Alaska Regional Air Show raised the $5,000 needed to buy the plane, and now it wants to restore it and raise it up on a pedestal at Juneau International Airport.

Mike Ordorf, a member of the air show group, said several plans are being considered to get the plane to Juneau.

The first step would be to put new wheels on it so it could possibly be wheeled onto a barge.

''Right now if we tried to move it, the wheels would crumble,'' Ordorf told the Petersburg Pilot.

Dixie had been owned by Petersburg residents Fred Triem and Dave Berg, who pulled it up from the bottom of Scow Bay.

The men said their dream had been to see the plane fly again, but the repair process was too expensive and time-consuming. They say they're happy that Dixie will be put to use in Juneau.

''We're proud to have been involved,'' Berg said. ''I can't wait to stand out on Hungry Point with a bottle of champagne and watch her float by on the next voyage of her life to Juneau. It's so exciting.''

Dixie is claimed to be the last aircraft flown by Col. Gregory ''Pappy'' Boyington, famed commander of the Black Sheep Squadron in the South Pacific in World War II.

After being decommissioned, the plane was put to work carrying cargo, first on international routes and later out of Fairbanks.

Nearly 11 years ago Dixie took off from Petersburgs airport after stopping to refuel. The 1944 plane, originally built for the Navy, had just been bought by a California company that planned to use it for flight-seeing tours of the Grand Canyon.

As the plane climbed toward cruising altitude, the pilot's aileron, which controls lateral movement, was rendered useless. The crew set the plane down in Scow Bay and was picked up by a fishing boat.

Onlookers remembered the plane slowly filling with water, then diving like a humpback whale to the sea floor.

Less than a week later, a salvage company owned by Triem and Berg found it on the bottom and claimed it. Divers attached cables to it, and while residents watched, the aircraft was brought to the surface and towed to a parcel of state land, where the landing gear was dropped. And there she sits.

Berg said their plan had been to fix Dixie, but within a few months they knew that plan was too ambitious.

''We realized that it was going to take a lot of money and commitment of time that we didn't have to restore Dixie to flyable condition,'' he said.

Ordorf said his interest in making the plane look presentable again is the same that made Berg and Triem retrieve it in the first place.

''I just hate to see something old and historically interesting or important wind up on the scrap heap,'' he said. ''I've watched it too many times that I decided I could ever do anything to save something historic, I would.''

Ordorf said Dixie feels and looks sound, though not necessarily sound enough to again take to the skies.

''Making it presentable is one thing,'' he said. ''Making it safe to fly is another thing entirely.''

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