Navy wants Minnesota mechanic to return salvaged WWII plane
By Associated Press, 3/27/2004 12:00
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The federal government has filed a lawsuit against a Minnesota mechanic to retrieve the wreckage of a Corsair fighter that the U.S. Navy abandoned after it crashed in a North Carolina swamp in 1944.
Lex Cralley, who says he has a passion for preserving World War II aviation history, salvaged the pieces of the plane in 1990 and transported it to a storage facility near his home in Princeton. He then registered it as a ''non-airworthy model'' with the Federal Aviation Administration and began the painstaking work of restoration. The task is still long from complete.
Last week, the U.S. Justice Department, acting as an agent for the Navy, filed a lawsuit in Minneapolis seeking the plane, the cost of returning it and compensation for ''any damage to or alteration of'' the aircraft since Cralley dug it out of the swamp.
''As owner of this aircraft, I will vigorously defend my position,'' Cralley said Friday, though he added that the government's legal move has him rattled.
''I'm just a little guy,'' said Cralley, 49, an aviation mechanic. ''I have no wealth, work for a living, have four kids.''