The mystery of WWII bomber plane that still lies in North Carolina’s Badin Lake
Apparently some North Carolina lakes of considerable depth generate as many legendary tales, expecially fish tales, but not only. Badin Lake, just outside the town of Albemarle, is not an exception.
Created in 1917 by the damming of the Yadkin river, the 5300-acre lake reaches depths of over 60 meters and holds in its belly the remains of farmhouses and entire forests, as well as, according to a legend, the mysterious wreckage of a World War II B-25 Mitchell bomber.
As story goes, Mary Elizabeth McDaniel hurried through an early lunch and dashed out to the yard so she wouldn’t miss her husband’s plane flying over. Also her little sisters, Kate and Teresa — 4 and 14 — charged out the farmhouse door, too, along with her mother, brothers, and a neighbor who’d come to see what all the fuss was about. Just after noon, on this day, June 8 1944, they heard it: the distinctive rumble of a U.S. bomber’s engines.
Mary and her pilot husband, 2nd Lt. Charles McDaniel, USMC, were newlyweds, childhood sweethearts who’d once lived across the street from each other. Just seven months earlier, in November 1943, they’d said their vows at the Baptist church up the road, but too soon they were parted. Nothing strange: in wartime, such sacrifices were expected. Charles, 21, ferried Navy planes to Cherry Point, and sometimes he flew over his hometown of Palmerville at night while Mary slept. In this trip, however, he and his copilot, John E. Withrow, USNR, had to make an unexpected landing in Charlotte, only an hour’s drive away. Which meant that he got to be with Mary and have supper with family at home. Early the next morning, he went back to work, but before he left, he promised Mary that he’d fly over the lake, on his way to Cherry Point.
News of the Allies’ recent invasion of Normandy was still crackling over the airwaves.
They all heard Charles before they saw him. He thundered overhead and then flew over his parents’ house down the road. The engines’ mighty rumble hung in the air, even as the plane slipped behind the trees and headed over the lake. Then, another sound, came without warning: an enormous explosion. Silence, somehow just as loud, followed. Seconds passed. And Mary screamed.
She would never see her beloved Charles again.
Navy divers soon located wreckage, but given the depth and the near-zero visibility of the dark water, called off the salvage effort. Small pieces of wreckage made their way to the surface, but the only things ever found from the crew were a sock and a shred of a uniform shirt sleeve.
That week, the deaths of Charles McDaniel and John Withrow were reported along with the growing list of D-Day casualties.
And the story of what happened that day got told and retold until fact was indistinguishable from fiction, and generations of Stanly County children grew up wondering just what secrets Badin Lake held.
Those who knew Mary said she never recovered from the loss of the love of her life.
She died in 1986 and rests in a small cemetery within sight of the banks of Badin Lake, close to the church where she and Charles got married. Next to her grave is a marker engraved with Charles’ name in the hopes that one day his remains, if ever found, can lie next to her.
Anglers, boaters and campers at the lake have heard stories of divers searching underwater for the crashed airplane and being frightened to the surface by, literally, “a catfish so large they could swallow a tank”… but not a whole guy from facemask to flippers, apparently.
And on current days, it seems that people have been all over the lake with electronics, but never found any sign of an airplane. So, just an urban legend?
Impossible to say, if there is also a scientific explanation: the lake bed was a fertile valley on the Yadkin River until 1917, when were built four dams to power its smelting plant. Farms, churches, and entire forests were submerged some 60 meters.
The shattered plane had come to rest in an underwater forest, its cables and wires dangling from the trees. The risk of losing divers in such an environment was deemed too great, and the Navy divers in 1944 scuttled the recovery effort. They salvaged what they could and, essentially, closed the case. Strict but fair.
In any case, according to local folklore, Mary’s ghost often walks the banks of the lake near the cemetery, waiting patiently for her beloved Charles to return to her arms. Legend or not, her neverending love serves as a reminder that of all the forces in the world, the power of love remains supreme even after death…