The Flying Tigers, who were sent to China in 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt before Washington joined the war, have long been one of the most potent symbols of U.S.-Chinese cooperation. The Tigers fought Japanese invaders from December 1941 until they were absorbed into the U.S. military the following July.
The Curtiss P-40 crashed in 1942 in Dianchi Lake near Kunming, the southwestern city that was the Tigers’ base.
“We hope the project of salvaging the P-40 can be a warm current in the cold wave and ease people’s worries about Chines-U.S. ties,” said Han Bo, chairman of the China Adventure Association, a nongovernment group that promotes outdoor activities and historical monuments.
The Tigers were credited with shooting down almost 300 Japanese aircraft while losing 14 of their own pilots. Their battles were some of the earliest American aerial victories in the war.
“Before the P-40 planes were deployed, the Japanese planes had the advantages in China,” said Han.
The body of the P-40’s pilot, John Blackburn, was recovered after the crash and returned to the United States. The plane sank into the lakebed.
Han said his group found the wreckage using magnetic surveying equipment in 2005 but couldn’t safely lift it out of the silt. He said divers recovered a shoe insole and a wire used to control the plane’s rudder.
The group plans to build a barrier around the aircraft, remove the silt and then lift it by crane to the surface, Han said.
“Now the technology is ready,” he said.
The group is trying to raise 30 to 40 million yuan ($5 to $7 million) in public donations to pay for salvaging the plane, Han said. The plan is to display it in a museum but it hasn’t been decided where.
Han said he is inviting surviving Flying Tigers and their families to visit for the raising of the wreckage.
Associated Press researcher Henry Hou contributed to this report.