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Mystery of lost B-29 haunts former Rochester man

Richard King has been chasing a mystery for more than 70 years. King is trying to find a B-29 bomber that disappeared over Minnesota on a training run on July 14, 1945.

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Richard King, third from left, bottom row, poses with his B-17 crew. King was trained as a B-17 gunner during World War II and was transferred to the B-29.
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Richard King has been intrigued by a mystery for more than 70 years.

King is trying to find a B-29 bomber that disappeared over Minnesota on a training run on July 14, 1945.

King, a longtime Rochester and Stewartville resident, will talk about his World War II experiences in the Army Air Forces during a presentation March 18 at the Veterans and Emergency Services Museum Round Table.

He trained as a B-17 gunner and later was transferred to the new B-29 bomber. Ironically, he had flown on the doomed plane just days earlier, and that flight turned back to base in Texas because of a fuel leak.

King was due to be shipped overseas when the war ended in August 1945.

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That’s just weeks after the plane disappeared over Minnesota, creating a mystery that continues to stump King and others.

"I’ve been looking for it for a few years," King, 95, said by phone from his Stillwater home.

The crew of the bomber bailed out over Minnesota when a fuel leak threatened to blow up the plane. The plane’s autopilot was set for 9,000 feet on a course generally north by northwest, and the bomber theoretically had enough fuel to reach the Pacific Ocean.

Crew members parachuted to safety in the vicinity of Grand Rapids, Minn., but the plane disappeared.

"We thought it hit a mountain," on its flight west, King said. "But it was never found." A government team sent to investigate apparently lost interest when the war ended less than a month later

King is convinced the plane came down in Minnesota — possibly in Red Lake.

"I’ve been up there, I’ve spent some serious time up there," he said. "It’s a shallow lake," with sand moving through the current and visibility limited, King said, to about six inches. "You can’t see your hand in front of your face," he said.

In other words, a thorough search of the lake bottom for the lost plane has not been possible.

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"It came over the top of a house up there that night, and threw the people out of bed," he said. "They knew it was a big plane."

The B-29, which went into service near the end of World War II, was indeed a big, four-engine bomber — the kind of plane that would seemingly be easy to find if it crashed somewhere visible. Even if it did crash in Red Lake, a relatively shallow lake, it seems something would have been noticed by now.

Then again, maybe the plane blew up and disintegrated over a remote area between Minnesota and the Rockies. Or the wreckage could have long ago been swallowed up by vegetation or water.

It all adds up to the mystery King is trying to solve. He has collected original newspaper articles about the event and studied reports from the time. "I have so much stuff about it you wouldn’t believe," he said. King has even considered trying to find family members of the crew, to see if they can offer any guesses or information.

Then again, he said, there’s always the possibility someone attending his Rochester talk will have an idea or a clue nobody has ever thought of.

What: Veterans and Emergency Services Museum Round Table

When: 7 p.m. March 18

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Where: Autumn Ridge Church, 3611 Salem Road SW, Rochester

Topic: Richard King will talk about his World War II service and the mystery of a lost B-29.

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