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The History of North Carolina's Badin Lake

The Lesser-known History of North Carolina's Incredible Badin Lake

Underwater towns, giant catfish, and a drowned airplane. All this and more can be found in North Carolina's Badin Lake.
UStravelia Staff
Last Updated: Dec 09, 2017
By Cindy Hunsinger

Tucked away in the heart of the North Carolina Piedmont is the Badin Lake. In the past it has gone by various other names, such as the Yadkin Reservoir and Tallahassee Lake in 1944. This lake was purchased by ALCOA from a French aluminum firm. This firm had dammed up the Yadkin River in 1914 in several places in order to create several reservoirs.

The rising river created a reservoir covering a multitude of natural and man-made obstacles that were in its path. Whole towns, including churches and graveyards, mines, railroad tracks, and forests were covered by the rising water. The depth of this lake can change without warning, which has been a problem for many boaters. In places it can be as much as 200 feet in depth, and then quickly change to less than a foot. So navigating it can be a challenge.

In 1944, a U.S. Navy bomber crashed into these waters, never to be recovered. The lake became a tomb for both 2nd Lt. Charles Merton McDaniel, USMC and Ens. John Earl Withrow, USNR. It appears that on June 8th, the pilot had agreed to circle the lake to signal his wife of just seven months as to whether he would be staying another night or the plane was ready to continue its journey. He was able to circle the lake twice successfully but something went horribly wrong on the third round. Reports say that the sound of the engine sputtering and then a loud explosion was all witnesses heard before the plane disappeared.

All attempts at recovery were made more difficult by the presence of submerged trees, still standing upright where they had been growing before the lake was formed. Several grapnel hooks were lost as the Experimental Diving Unit, based at the Washington Navy Yard, tried for days to locate and resurface the plane. Finally they resorted to dynamite, in the hope that they would be able to at least locate the plane.

On June 17th, charges brought up flecks of paint, blue on one side and yellow on the other, and small specks of hydraulic fluid. This enabled the team to get a fix on the approximate location, so that dive teams would know where to look. The team worked there until around July 15, 1944. Pieces of the plane were recovered but the bodies of the pilot and co-pilot were not. Throughout the years, other efforts have been made to recover them, but to no avail.

Many stories and legends have come from this event, and others involving this incredible lake. Everyone who has ever fished this lake probably have many stories of their own about the fish or its waters. Legend has it that the lake contains ancient catfish that are large enough to swallow a full-grown man. While none has ever seen these fish, one of the largest catfish ever caught in North Carolina was an 83-pound blue catfish from Badin Lake near Garr Creek on May 1, 2003. The record fish, measuring 49 inches in length and 37 inches in girth, was caught on 14-pound test line using live gizzard shad as bait. Although probably not able to swallow a man, that's pretty close. It makes you wonder what else may be found in this beautiful lake with the interesting history.