HomeTrendingExplorers Discover The Incredible In Papua New Guinea's Jungle

Explorers Discover The Incredible In Papua New Guinea’s Jungle

Jungles are often secretive with their lush vegetation overgrowing everywhere. If something gets stuck in there, odds are that it won’t be found for a while because of how hard they are to explore.

Things may not even be found at all unless they are stumbled upon by complete mistake. This is what happened to the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. It wasn’t just the plane that was hidden but it had its own secret waiting on the inside.

The higher you go, the smaller things on the ground become. Buildings look like small children’s toys and perspective is given when up above. Rivers’ full-lengths can be admired and things that you wouldn’t normally see appear on the ground.

If you look close enough, you can sometimes see small abnormalities in the scenic landscape. This is what happened to the Royal Australian Air Force when they stumbled upon a very rare find while they were up above. 

Every routine flight that the Royal Australian Air Force has been on was nothing out of the ordinary and each flight felt the same. But in 1972 they had a flight that was quite unusual. The world heard about their fascinating discovery and it brought a lot of attention.

During a flight like any other, the crewmen spotted something extraordinary that would be one of the greatest military discoveries of all time. It also brought about a story for people around the world to latch onto in fascination. The press nicknamed the Airforce’s discovery the “Swamp Ghost” and it led to the further discovery of what it was hiding. 

The RAAF was on a normal flight like any other over the wilderness of Papua New Guinea. It was their jurisdiction at the time before it became an independent state in 1975. It was three years before that the “Swamp Ghost” was discovered.

The RAAF flight was going like any other routine flight, the crew wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. Little did they know this normal flight was about to change.

They flew above the swamp when they noticed the glint of something nestled amongst the trees. They didn’t know what the object was so they decided to take a closer look at it. They saw it was inorganic, white, and a strange shape.

They flew over once more and saw that whatever it was, it was half sunk in the water of the swamp. This is when the crew realized that they were flying over swampland.

Papua New Guinea truly has some astonishing scenes. A lot of the country is covered by savannah and tropical rainforests. Even though much of it is beautiful, it’s also covered in swampland which has its own majesty. The Agaiambo Swamp, close to the northern part of the country, is where the legendary plane was found.

There’s plenty of wildlife in the swamps and most of them can be hazardous to humans. Among the most threatening are alligators and mosquitoes carrying malaria. Knowing about these dangers, some men decided they still had to find the secrets hidden in the swamp.

One of the actual co-pilots from the Swamp Ghost, named David Tallichet, together with a businessman named Fred Hagen, decided to assemble an excursion to find the elusive plane. They knew it’s historical value but also knew a secret most others did not.

Papua New Guinea saw a lot of conflict during World War II. Australia was called the “Southwest Pacific theatre”. A theatre is a term in warfare where a lot of important conflicts take place. Both the men on the excursion were aware of this and wanted to see what else they could find.

Tallichet and Hagen were both big-time collectors of war memorabilia, specializing in plane paraphernalia. They had more than enough experience to lead the exploration into the swamp. They were motivated and knew a thing or two about old war relics. As they stumbled into the swamp, they felt positive that they’d find their “Swamp Ghost”.

The expedition was anything but easy. The waist-high water, scorching temperature, and wildlife made things rather challenging. The two explorers weren’t going to get bogged down and continued heading towards what they could only assume was the resting place of their prize. 

Once they had reached their estimated destination, they saw their beautiful plane half-hidden under all sorts of flora. The plane was miraculously in amazing shape, despite sitting in the swamp for so long. It was half-submerged in the swamp water and had managed to stay hidden for so long.

After finding their prize the world soon heard that the elusive “Swamp Ghost” was an old World War II plane. How long had this been lying here for? And how did it end up in the swamp? Soon after these questions were raised they were quickly answered.

After being extensively inspected, it was confirmed to be from the 1940s. The plane was subsequently named “the Holy Grail” because it was a lost treasure that had been found after being hidden away for so long. The plane was quite hard to move since it was in such good shape and they didn’t want to damage it.

Once the plane was inspected, researchers confirmed it belonged to the 1940s and that it was, in fact, a Bomber plane from World War II. The aircraft was renamed ‘the Holy Grail’ since, without a doubt, a long-lost treasure had finally been found. However, given the plane was so well-preserved, David Tallichet, Fred Hagen and their team had quite a hard time removing it from the Agaiombo swamp.

The Bomber plane was indeed a symbol of past times, as it was a long-lasting witness of the deadly conflict between the United States and the Japanese Empire during WWII. Nonetheless, it had to be moved from the swamp. This turned out to be a very tricky task. Since the plane was literally inside the swamp and partly submerged in water, reaching it was nearly impossible and moving it without damaging it was very difficult as well.

Because of these adversities, the team couldn’t move the plane on their first visit to the wreckage, but David Tallichet and Fred Hagen were stubborn. They had committed to the idea of disassembling the plane and shifting it to a safer place, somewhere where it could finally rest in peace with all its might. So they left the beautiful land of Papua New Guinea only to return some time later, but this time, much more prepared for the task.

A few weeks later, it was revealed that the so-called ‘Swamp Ghost’ was a B-17E ‘Flying Fortress’ four-engine heavy bomber. The B-17E was commonly known as the ‘Flying Fortress’, name given by a journalist from Seattle Times back in 1935. During one of the many test flights, the journalist told everyone that the plane looked like a flying fortress and ever since then, the nickname stuck on.

The plane was developed in 1935 for the United States Army Air Corps and was first used in the battlefield in 1941. With a gross weight of 54,000 lbs and a length of 74 ft, it was known for its capacity to repel attacks and still inflict damage to enemies. In other words, it was a fairly large aircraft. Tallichet and Hagen were very much aware of this, and even though they began their attempt to restore the B-17E in the 1980s, it took decades for them to finally restore the plane to its original appearance.

Exactly one day before the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place on December 7, 1941, the B-17E was sent on a special mission. Instead of flying along the 435th Bombardment Squadron, which was also known as the ‘Kangaroo Squadron’, the ‘Flying Fortress’ was unknowingly sent out on one of the first —and most threatening— bombing missions of the Second World War.

But all of a sudden, something terrible happened. The Japanese military invaded the township of Rabaul, on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. This posed a threat to the allied troops stationed in the country and meant that something needed to be done in order to ensure the safety of each and every soldier, and of course, the residents of Rabaul. However, things took quite a dark turn for the Swamp Ghost’s crew.

In February of 1942, the B-17E ‘Flying Fortress’ was sent off to attack Japanese ships in Rabaul Harbor, on New Britain Island. That fateful day, nothing went according to then plan for the ‘Swamp Ghost’, as it would tragically never return from its mission. During the attack, the ‘Flying Fortress’ was hit, but the plane didn’t explode. The crew then tried to make its way back to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea’s capital city. Unfortunately, the plane never reached its destination.

Because of this, the aircraft faced two critical problems: a punctured wing and an enormous fuel leak. There was no other choice for the pilot but to attempt to make a crash landing in the New Guinean wilderness. He believed to have found the perfect spot to perform an emergency landing, but sadly, more disasters awaited him and his crew.

As the plane came upon the Own Stanley Mountains, the pilot observed a soft wheat field which he thought would be more than perfect for a crash landing. But, as the old saying goes, ‘all that glitters is not gold’, and what he had spotted was not actually a wheat field. On the contrary, what he thought to be the perfect spot for an emergency landing turned out to be something quite dissimilar.

That magnificent and ideal wheat field was, as a matter of fact, nothing but a swamp inhabited by voracious and ruthless crocodiles, among other wild animals. To everyone’s surprise, the B-17E managed to land in the Agaiombo swamp quite calmly. And even more surprisingly, none of the crew members were seriously injured. Despite the fact that they were all alive and well, the airmen were stranded in the middle of a dangerous region.

Even though the entire crew had survived, each member tragically caught malaria as they attempted to cross the swamp. Luckily, they came across a native who aided them and carried the airmen back to his village. This generous and compassionate local helped care for the B-17E’s crew and nurse them back to health. Once they all got better and were healthy enough, it was time for the airmen to be reunited with the US Forces.

The crew of the ‘Flying Fortress’ was ultimately reunited with the US Forces in the city of Port Moresby, the destination where they were originally meant to land in before the airship got wrecked. All the crew members were welcomed back as heroes, yet, bizarrely enough, were sent out on a new mission almost immediately.

While the crew of the ‘Swamp Ghost’ was redeployed and sent out on new missions, the B-17E ‘Flying Fortress’ remained in the middle of Agaiombo swamp, half-submerged in its distant and muddy waters. Eventually, the war ended, the soldiers went home, and the airship was completely forgotten.

For a few decades, the world forgot about the ‘Swamp Ghost’, everyone except for a few locals who lived in the surrounding areas. The US Forces made no attempts to recover the plane from the wreck site. All of this changed in 1972 when the aircraft was accidentally rediscovered by members of the Royal Australian Air Force just as they were flying above the swamp.

The moment that Tallichet and Hagen reached the ‘Flying Fortress’, they realized the plane was unimaginably well preserved. However, even though it had been partially submerged in water and laying in a remote location, this didn’t prevent locals from burglarizing the insides of the ‘Swamp Ghost’. This meant that the plane was best preserved from the outside, rather than the inside.

In fact, by the time they arrived, all of the weaponry and mechanics had already been looted. But little did this matter for the two men, as they were determined to rescue and then restore the abandoned plane one way or the other. But can anyone guess why the ‘Flying Fortress’ was so valuable?

Once the news of the discovery spread throughout the world, everyone considered the ‘Flying Fortress’ as one of the greatest treasures in warfare history. After all, the ‘Flying Fortress’ had been one of only four planes of its kind, so the fact that one of them had been discovered – and in relatively good shape – was groundbreaking news!

According to the Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii, the ‘Flying Fortress’ is “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 World War II. And it is the only B-17 in the world that still bears its battle scars“. So we’re really talking about a valuable historical artifact! But wait, this is not all!

Back in the 1930s, Boeing started fabricating the B-17 heavy bombers. Since its introduction to the public, the B-17 became the third-most massively produced bomber of all time. During the Second World War, it was largely used against German forces in Europe. In addition, the B-17 was also employed as an antisubmarine aircraft, a drone controller, and a search-and-rescue aircraft.

During the war in the Pacific, the B-17 bomber was conducted, to a lesser extent, in storming Japanese shipping and airfields. Most of the aircraft were stationed in Alaska, Panama, and Hawaii. The B-17 bomber was considered a highly strategic resource in World War II, and it’s believed to have been responsible for dropping around 640,000 tons of bombs on Nazi Germany. But did this mean anything to Tallichet and Hagen?

The introduction of the bomber was part of President Roosevelt’s plan of modernizing the US military forces. In fact, the B-17 represented a new generation of bomber planes that managed to carry a larger amount of payload and serve isolated bases all around the world. It was a rather fast, high-flying, long-range bomber with heavy defensive armament at the expense of bombload. The B-17 also had a reputation for being tough and resistant, which was based upon photographs and stories of acutely damaged planes returning to base safely.

After the war inevitably ended, the B-17 swiftly became irrelevant for the US Force and eventually fell out of favor. The Army Air Forces retired most of its fleet, and while only a few bombers remained in use, they were mostly employed in secondary missions such as transport and photo-reconnaissance. The majority of the B-17s were then returned to the United States, where they were sold for scrap and melted down.

Tallichet and Hagen’s rescue operation finally came to an end in 2006. However, it would take another four long years for the men and their team to receive permission to return the aircraft to American soil. Another obstacle they had to sort out was to convince the locals to transfer the B-17E ‘Flying Fortress’ back to the US.

Strangely enough, locals believed the abandoned aircraft to be a relic sitting on divine land, which meant they had to be persuaded in order to agree on handing over the ‘Swamp Ghost’. They even performed a ceremony to pacify the spirits that supposedly inhabited the swamp. After the ceremony, the plane was ready to be removed from the Agaiombo swamp, but Tallichet and Hagen encountered yet another problem.

Apparently, over the years, these people had grown attached to the long-abandoned aircraft. They thought of it as a relic, and it was very difficult for them to let the B-17E ‘Flying Fortress’ go. But one man was especially against the removal of the plane and he set out to make sure that the aircraft stayed in its place. This man also happened to be the son of a local chief.

The local chief’s son even went as far as recruiting a crowd of people, who were meant to intercept the plane before it could be moved to a barge offshore. Fortunately for Tallichet and Hagen, the group’s efforts were ineffective and the bomber was picked up by a Russian-made military helicopter and transported to the freight ship that was waiting offshore. The chief’s son had no choice but to silently watch as the B-17 was lifted away.

Just a few months after being removed from the Agaiombo swamp in Papua New Guinea, the B-17 ‘Flying Fortress’ was exhibited in Long Beach California. A very interesting, touching and peculiar detail of this exhibition is that many of the people who attended the event were actually friends and relatives of the original bomber’s crew.

Most of the visitors were thrilled with excitement as they witnessed the remains of the long-lost plane, which would now forever rest in its home country. The B-17E ‘Flying Fortress’ has a great historical significance, as it symbolizes a tragic part of our history which claimed millions of innocent lives. Since 2013, the ‘Swamp Ghost’ has been on display at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor.

To this day, many of the locals remain upset because of the removal of the plane. The thing is that the ‘Swamp Ghost’ used to attract a great number of tourists, so the economy of Papua New Guinea was heavily affected by its rescue. Now, the aircraft now rests in a museum in Hawaii, but will this be its permanent home?

Now, people are faced with the task of restoring the plane to its former glory, but this is harder than it sounds. One of the main obstacles is that the restoration costs are incredibly high and might even exceed $5 million. However, we should not forget that the ‘Swamp Ghost’ is a true relic that carries great historical value, so isn’t it worth it? Once the bomber is fully restored, it’s due to be transported to the Hangar 79 on Ford Island, an islet in the center of Pearl Harbor.


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