Can you imagine walking down a beach and literally stumbling across a World War II airplane?
That’s what happened to someone in Wales last summer, when shifting sands exposed a Lockheed P-38 that had been on the beach since it crashed there in 1942.
The airplane is largely intact and does not have much corrosion, according to reports filtering out of Wales. There are plans to recover it next spring and preserve it at a museum in the United Kingdom.
Among the groups taking interest in the recovery is The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), perhaps best known for its efforts in the Pacific to find the Amelia Earhart airplane wreckage. TIGHAR also has worked with the United States Navy to recover a rare World War II Douglas TBD “Devastator” torpedo bomber from a lagoon in the Marshall Islands.
Early in October, Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR’s executive director, led an archaeological survey team to the United Kingdom to assess the P-38’s condition and collect data expected to be useful in recovery operations, planned for a spring 2008 start.
“We call her the ‘Maid of Harlech’ after the magnificent 13th century Welsh castle, but until she can be rescued from the sands of time, her actual location must remain confidential,” TIGHAR officials say on the organization’s website, TIGHAR.org.
The recovery site is under surveillance, according to Gillespie, who says its location is not being released to thwart souvenir hunters. Disturbing the aircraft would be a violation of Britain’s Protection of Military Remains Act, which carries heavy penalties.
The aircraft is believed to be a P-38F, USAAF serial number 41-7677, which was assigned to the 49th Squadron, 14th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force. It crash-landed on the beach Sept. 27, 1942, because of fuel exhaustion during a training mission. The pilot, 2nd Lt. R. Frederick Elliott, put the P-38 down in shallow water and walked away unscathed, only to be killed in action later in the war. Because beaches were off limits to civilians during the war and the press was forbidden to write about Allied wrecks, the crash went unnoticed as sand covered it — until last summer.
TIGHAR is working with museums in the UK, the Ministry of Defense, the University of Wales, local government authorities and archaeological foundations in planning and funding recovery of the P-38.
Individuals and corporations interested in participating in the project can contact TIGHAR Executive Director Ric Gillespie through the group’s website.
For more information: TIGHAR.org.