Treasure Chasers

June 15, 2011

Museum Battles U.S. Navy for Possession of Panther ‘Recon’ Fighter Jet

Filed under: Shipwreck — Tags: , , , , , , , — admin @ 4:08 pm

Quartzsite, AZ (PRWEB) September 12, 2004

Over the last two decades, representatives for the Navy have made their position on the subject of salvaged warplanes abundantly clear. Claim ownership of any plane ever owned by the Navy and the offending citizen, organization or museum will likely face charges, often with the Navy utilizing the full force and power of the U.S. Department of Justice to ‘protect their interests.

Minnesotan Lex Cralley, who salvaged an abandoned Corsair from a swamp in North Carolina, has gained national media attention while enduring various attacks from Navy officials over possession of his recovered plane, forcing him to defend himself in court. All for having tried, according to Cralley, to preserve a tiny piece of the history and heritage of aviation in the United States.

The Corsair, having crashed into the swamp December 19, 1944, had been stripped and abandoned by Navy officials at that time.

Congressman Walter B. Jones has aligned himself with Cralley and is working to see the plane relinquished to the mechanic — a father of four who had to mortgage his house to defend himself against the Navy’s allegations.

Beyond the accusations surrounding those planes which have been crashed and abandoned, any aircraft formerly owned by the Navy and potentially salvageable by any means brings with it the threat of actual seizure by Navy personnel — along with possible criminal charges, costly legal battles and public embarrassment.

But is the Navy, the one branch of the military that seems to take such a forceful approach toward apparently well-meaning collectors and restorers, really able to prove ownership of these aging relics — especially those which are abandoned and literally rotting away?

The W.A.S.P. Museum’s ‘salvaged plane’ was headed for the crusher in 1993 when Oldham learned of it’s plight. At a publicly sanctioned and properly advertised legal auction, the Panther was won by Richard Oldham, the curator of the W.A.S.P. Museum in Quartzsite, Arizona via sealed bid, a process the Navy now challenges.

According the Oldham, the plane was scheduled to be destroyed.

He’s put the entire story, along with all pertinent documentation, online at the W.A.S.P. Museum’s website, inviting people to evaluate the ‘paper trail’ for themselves. [Online at http://www.waspmuseum.com

“I purchased the plane, and when I would not give it to the Navy upon demand, representatives from the U.S.S. Hornet Museum  offered to complete the restoration for our museum. Once the plane was moved from our site to the U.S.S. Hornet under a signed agreement to return the plane in five years, I was advised by the Admiral on the U.S.S. Hornet that the plane would ‘never leave their museum,’” Oldham stated.

But Oldham’s lawyers, Glen G. Gimbut of Yuma, had, prior to allowing the plane to be transferred to the U.S.S. Hornet, prepared a contract concerning the transfer of the plane which the Navy promptly signed, demanding 750,000.00 should the plane fail to be returned as per the agreement, following the five year lease. In March of 2005, that contract is due — and the Panther is to return to the W.A.S.P. Museum or the $ 750,000 paid to the museum to provide the funds for the purchase of another plane.

Today, plaques accompanying the aircraft document it’s use as a special photographic model of Panther aircraft, used to fly reconnaissance missions. It is the only remaining one of it’s type and kind, rendering it virtually priceless.

Key West attorney David Paul Horan, a veteran of salvage and recovery operations throughout the world, including the Titanic and the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha, has battled the Navy over a TBD-1 Devastator which crashed in the waters off Florida’s coast in the forties. That plane, too, is believed to be the last TBD-1 in existence, rendering it, too, virtually priceless.

Much to the shock of those watching the case, the Navy demanded possession of the plane from those rallying to salvage it — only to leave the plane considered to be ‘the Holy Grail’ of U.S. aviation’ rotting at the bottom of the ocean.

“What possible reason can they offer for declaring ownership of this rare and extremely valuable piece of American history, only to leave it to dissolve on an ocean floor?” Horan asks.

Another consideration: As the W.A.S.P.’s case for ownership of the Panther advances, other museums, themselves holding Navy planes, watch anxiously.

Throughout the country, many of the displays of planes in museums both public and private contain planes once owned by the Navy. If Oldham’s case fails, these planes are certainly at risk of confiscation.

A twice elected President of the Arizona Historical Society, Oldham painstakingly documented every aspect of the acquisition of the Panther and holds every pertinent piece of official documentation that was available — documentation the Navy has repeatedly requested, received and reviewed.

It proved, as well, the legal and proper acquisition of the Panther by the City of Mesa, via a transaction authorized and provided for by members of Congress in an official act of Congress in 1959 under Congressional Declaration 10 USC 2572.

Further, Senator Bob Stump, having taken the matter before Congress in 2002, established the plane should be relinquished to the W.A.S.P. Museum requiring only that they neither fly nor transfer the Panther to any entity not approved by Navy officials. But when the documentation arrived, the Navy had added many stipulations — among them, that the Panther would remain at the U.S.S. Hornet Museum in Alameda, California.

The W.A.S.P. Museum officials have agreed to the original stipulations concerning transfer of title and agreement not to fly the Panther. They want the plane returned to the W.A.S.P. facility or another plane, equally significant, as the centerpiece for the museum.

Contact Information:

Museum Curator Richard Oldham

W.A.S.P. Museum

731 Quartzsite Boulevard

Quartzsite, Arizona 85346

Phone: 1.888.831.4365 OR 928.927.5555

E-Mail: Info@WASPMuseum.com

WEBSITE: http://www.waspmuseum.com

ATTORNEY STEPHEN P. SHADLE

WESTOVER, SHADLE AND WALSMA, P.L.C.

2260 SOUTH FOURTH AVENUE, SUITE 2000

YUMA, ARIZONA 85364

PHONE: 928.783.8321 OR FAX: 928.782.2310

E-MAIL: SSHADLE@YUMALAWFIRM.COM

ATTORNEY GLENN J. GIMBUT

LAW OFFICES OF GLENN J. GIMBUT, P.L.L.C.

152 SOUTH FIRST AVENUE

YUMA, ARIZONA 85364

PHONE: 928.627.2027 OR FAX: 928.627.3879

E-MAIL: GGIMBUT@MINDSPRING.COM

DOUG CHAMPLIN, FORMER CURATOR

240 HANSEN LANE

GARDNERVILLE, NEVADA 89460

PHONE: 775.265.7996 OR FAX: 775.265.7871

DAVID PAUL HORAN, ESQ.

HORAN, HORAN AND WALLACE, LLP

608 WHITEHEAD STREET

KEW WEST, FLORIDA 33040-6540

305.293.4585

305.294.3488 OR FAX: 305.294.7822

E-MAIL: INFO@HORAN-WALLACE.COM

WEBSITE: WWW.HORAN-WALLACE.COM

HONORABLE GORDON R. ENGLAND

SECRETARY OF THE NAVY

1000 NAVY PENTAGON

WASHINGTON D.C. 20350-1000

ALBERTO J. MORA

GENERAL COUNSEL OF THE DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY

1000 NAVY PENTAGON

WASHINGTON D.C. 20350-1000

DEBORAH G. SCIASCIA, ASST. COUNSEL

DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY

OFFICE OF THE GENERAL COUNSEL

COUNCIL FOR THE INVENTORY

700 ROBBINS AVENUE

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA 19111-5098

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