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While flying over a remote part of Papua New Guinea in the south Pacific, a group of Royal Australian Air Force helicopters suddenly detected something large and submerged in the hot wetlands. The year was 1972 and the soldiers had no idea what giant thing was lurking underneath the rainforest. They were curious and directed the helicopters to fly closer. But when they did, the pilots grew speechless. The radio went silent for a moment. Then they found the words to report what they had just discovered…
Just north of the continent of Australia, Papua New Guinea includes myriad islands and is home to some of the world’s most wild wilderness still explorable. The unique country includes numerous ecosystems that are all different than the last. These include tropical rainforests, jungles, intense mountain chains, volcanos, savannahs and dingy swamps.
But the part of the country the Australian soldiers were interested in was not only dangerous, it was virtually unexplored. It included a crocodile-infested swamp called the Agaimbo. Because the large object was in a location practically impossible to reach explained why the behemoth under the rainforest had been so well preserved.
The Aussie soldiers had stumbled on an old World War II bomber. And as the photography of the old airship were shared to the media, it quickly gained the popular name “Swamp Ghost.” Eventually the abandoned bomber became the holy grail of sorts for military aviation history.
“It was widely considered that it was impossible to salvage this airplane,” aviation archaeologist Fred Hagen told Southern California Public Radio in 2010.
That’s when David Tallichet Jr. entered the scene. He was a World War II veteran from Dallas, Texas who became an entrepreneur after his stint in the military. Tallichet made money collecting and restoring old military aircraft. He wanted to get his hands on the “Swamp Ghost.” He already owned more than 120 planes but was not satisfied with his huge collection.
What was even more exciting for Tallichet was that he co-piloted the same four-engine bomber that had been found in Papua New Guinea. That’s why in the 1980s, he set out on a mission with Hagen to salvage the wreck.
“It was our greatest dream,” Hagen told South California Public Radio. “Because for some reason it captured the imagination of people from around the world…”
The plane was an U.S. Air Force B-17E Flying Fortress. Because of environmental factors, the Swamp Ghost had remained almost perfectly preserved over the years. Although it had gone down more than three decades before during World War II, the restoration crew was ready to get to work.
Although it was hard work, Tallichet eventually got the flying fortress out of the jungle. And it was later described by the Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii as “arguably the world’s only intact and unretired World War II-era B-17E bomber, a one-of-a-kind example of an aircraft that played an indispensable role in winning WWII. And it is the only B-17 in the world that still bears its battle scars.”
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