Cheers rang out on the weekend as a small group of volunteers with essential worker permits lifted a plane wreck from its resting place in Lake Corangamite for the first time in 70 years.
The submerged CAC Wirraway aircraft has challenged salvage diver Rodney Knights with dizzying red tape, bad weather and complex engineering but now his 12-year quest to retrieve the plane is nearly over.
Volunteers on the weekend carefully lifted the fuselage, or aircraft body, using a gantry system and placed it on a barge that towed the frame to shore.
They had also lifted the plane's engine, complete with its propeller, from the salty shallow lake the weekend prior.
"I am so excited. When it first moved a couple of weekends ago I thought 'we are there'," Mr Knights said.
Pilot Vance Drummond, a trainee with the Royal Australian Air Force, crashed the plane into the lake during a training exercise in October 1950.
Mr Drummond survived the crash and went on to become an elite airman, but the plane stayed submerged and forgotten about until drought exposed it in 2005.
Mr Knights was racing against time to salvage the wreck before September, when his permits forbid work while birds breed.
Most of the plane is now in preserving pools at Lethbridge Airport, where Mr Knights plans to use parts from another Wirraway to begin to restore the wreck.
But back in the lake, mud has unexpectedly weighed down the aircraft's wings, forcing the team to abandon them until next year.
"It wasn't feasible to bring it up in one piece. It's been a long drawn out process," Mr Knights said.
"I would like to have it all out by now. We didn't rush it because it was a very complicated extraction."
There are more than 20 submerged aircraft wrecks in Victoria, but none has ever been salvaged.
The RAAF gifted Mr Knights the wreck and he hopes to one day display it as a museum piece or even see it fly again.
The salty water has corroded much of the plane's aluminum, but the steel frame remains intact.
"It has all the identification plates, it has all the controls. The body is the crucial part," Mr Knights said.
The aircraft now has to soak in fresh-water for possibly a couple of years. Mr Knights, wearing diving gear, will dismantle it part-by-part in the pool.
"Now all the hard work starts but I can do it without the pressure of having a permit running out on me," Mr Knights said of the restoration.
"I can happily retire knowing I have a long-term job to do."
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