Workers found what was left of Hank Mascall's Army Air Corps cap right where he said he left it: In the nose of a World War II bomber that crash-landed and sank in a South Carolina lake 62 years ago.
Pulled last month from 150 feet of water in Lake Murray near Columbia, S.C., the old, olive-drab B-25 is now being cleaned, preserved and readied for display at an aviation museum in Alabama.
Inside the silt-filled fuselage, volunteers and workers at the Southern Museum of Flight have found a trove of wartime artifacts, including machine guns, navigational equipment, radios, a pilot's map satchel and seat restraints.
While scooping mud from the nose section, they also discovered the soggy bill of Mascall's cap, which the bombardier left inside the plane in the rush to inflate a life raft and get out of the sinking aircraft.
Mascall's wife, Gerry, still recalls him coming home the day of the crash without that hat. She said her husband couldn't believe it when he heard the plane had been recovered from the muddy lake bottom.
"He was excited," said the Portland, Ore., resident, whose husband is now 86, in frail health and living in a nursing facility. "Our children are just waiting for the day they can go look at it."
Memories have faded, and no one is sure whether four or five men were aboard the twin-engine B-25 when it plunged into the lake on April 4, 1943, after the left engine failed during a training flight.
Everyone survived, but Mascall is the only crew member known to still be alive. The pilot died in a later training crash.
Bob Seigler, a doctor who grew up in Columbia and spent time on the lake hearing stories of the crashed bomber, spent years raising money and jumping all the legal hurdles needed to salvage the plane.
Thanks to his work, the bomber -- still in one piece save for its right engine and propellers -- was raised from the murky water last month by a barge topped with a huge steel frame and powerful winches. The operation cost about $250,000.
The 53-foot-long plane is a "C" model, one in a series that incorporated updates in design and technology during the war. It had to be disassembled before it was brought to Birmingham on two flatbed trucks, and the sections are now scattered on a parking lot and inside a hangar at the nonprofit museum, where work has started to preserve it.
The fuselage is in two main pieces, and the wings and bomb bay make up a third large section. The plane's aluminum skin is dented and pitted by corrosion in places, but it's in surprisingly good shape after so many years in the water.
The green paint on the plane's exterior is faded, yet a white star inside a blue circle is still visible on the rear of the fuselage.
The twin tail assembly lies on the ground, and other sections of the aircraft are inside the hangar, where the most delicate pieces are kept in bags filled with lake water to prevent further corrosion. Even the foam padding from the pilot's seat survived.
Workers found many reminders of the bomber's last flight while cleaning out the plane. A Thermos with a shiny top was still strapped to a bulkhead behind the pilot's seat, and the plane's controls were frozen where they were the day of the crash.
"It's just like it was for flight. One of the throttles is wide open," said Joe Shannon, who flew a B-25 during the war and is a volunteer at the museum.
Pieces of the plane, including the right engine and propellers, remain at the bottom of the lake, and museum director Jim Griffin isn't sure whether they will be recovered. He expects it will cost as much as $60,000 to preserve what already has been pulled from the lake.
Once it has been cleaned and sprayed with anticorrosive chemicals, the B-25 will be reassembled and placed on supports inside a new exhibit hall, where sand and special lighting will be used to make the craft look like it's still on the bottom of Lake Murray.
"The aircraft really is too badly damaged to do a complete restoration," Griffin said. "People really want to see it the way it appeared in the lake."
Jim Griffin, director of the Southern Museum of Flight, expects it will cost $60,000 to preserve what they have.