By Ashleigh / Nov 30, 2022
They called it the Swamp Ghost. It had been sitting in the middle of the jungle in Papua New Guinea for many years, yet nobody really knew where it came from. At first, it didn’t gain much attention and only the locals came and went.
David felt his pulse quicken as it came into view, like a stark white dagger in the landscape. But it was only when he laid his shaking hands upon it that he realized just what he’d done.
From the view of a trained eye, one would know that this object held a lot of value, not only monetarily but also historically. Yet, its appeal with the local community made it difficult for anybody to attempt to explore it, much less remove it from the site.
One day, two men braved the woods and headed towards the deepest part of the swamp to attempt to put an end to the mystery that had surrounded it for decades.
What They Could Not Understand
One of the early sightings of the Swamp Ghost was in 1972, when the Royal Australian Air Force conducted a routine flight across the Papua New Guinea jungle, not really trying to find anything but just going through the motions. At first, everything was normal and the pilots were happily chatting about random things.
However, something in the thick of greens stood out and caught their attention — turning their blood to ice in their veins.
For miles, all they could see were stretches of green but the scene changed abruptly when something white seemed to call out to the from the middle of all the thick trees. It bore an odd shape and they couldn’t make out where it was from their altitude.
They could have just left it alone, but curiosity got the better of them.
A Curious Case
The pilots decided to move the helicopter closer to the site, which was mostly composed of swampland. The nearer they came, the wider their eyes grew.
They could see that half of it was submerged in the water while the rest was covered by the thick, tall grass, so it was hard to draw a conclusion as to what it was, at first. The villagers, however, had known of it for decades.
A Mystery Awaits
The Papua New Guinea swamps are home to many types of animals, so they didn’t discount the possibility that they could be coming face to face with a massive creature in the water.
The area also had a deep history. It had been a major place of conflict during World War 2. Thus, finding the remnants of war was another thing to be considered. Since the first sighting, many have tried to explain it.
That particular island in Papua New Guinea was not exactly hidden. In fact, curious travelers have been coming and going to explore the place for the treasures it held.
Although an island, with likely many virgin beaches, people were arriving not for the tropical paradise experience. They were there to see something far more ominous.
A Cursed Place
From all over the world, people flocked to witness the secret that had lain in the dense marshland for decades. Many had fallen under the spell of the Swamp Ghost, but very few ever reached their destination.
The treacherous marshes claimed some, and malaria drove the others mad. The locals had an explanation: the swamp was cursed.
History And Legend
The villagers know of the sunken freighters, submarines, and troopships that rest on the bottoms of their harbors and hidden bays. Eerily blackened hulls of bombed-out planes sit beside old airstrips, and debris from hundreds of crashed planes lies camouflaged in the mountainous rain forests and lowland jungles.
They know the history because they were there. Many perished, and many thousands of Japanese soldiers were never accounted for. Even today, after heavy rains, villagers report shapes rising up in the mangrove swamps like mummies in a horror movie…
Two history buffs, itching to see the area for themselves, are two ever-so-curious gentlemen who decided that the sighting that happened in 1972 was something they wanted to explore even further, regardless of how difficult it would be.
The legend of the Swamp Ghost was just too tantalizing a mystery to pass up. But these two men had no idea what they would be dealing with when they got there.
A Doomed Expedition?
When they first heard about the sighting and the fact that some locals had been treating it as some sort of deity, Fred Hagen and David Tallichet resolved that they would do whatever it takes to put everyone’s questions to rest.
Both men are known for their experience with relic restorations. But they were not ready for the Swamp Ghost.
An archeologist by profession, Fred was always searching for the next rare find that they could put their hands on. So when they decided to fly to Papua New Guinea to witness for themselves that this massive white object was in the middle of swamps, the preparations became easy.
They contacted some locals to help them acquire the equipment they needed to put their project into fruition. But they ignored their warmings.
Into The Unknown
The moment that all their equipment had been readied, Fred and David brought their team out to Papua New Guinea jungle to get started on their mission. They weren’t familiar with the terrain and certainly did not know what the swampy marshes held in store for them.
However, the passion for exploring something that had apparently been untouched for decades overpowered any uncertainty. But there were more tangible dangers ahead than the ghosts that were said to wander the marshes…
Into The Heart Of The Jungle
“Don’t mind the danger,” they thought. “This thing needed to be seen and understood — and it is us who will be getting this done.”
Of course, it was easy to be headstrong and brave when you haven’t been to such kinds of marshlands before, so when they finally stepped foot in the jungle, they felt their hearts begin to race.
The mysterious object was challenging to get to as it lay deep within the swampy area of the Papua New Guinea jungle. Needless to say, reaching it on foot was no easy task. The water came up to their waists and it was difficult to move because of the thick mud.
Virgin swamps like this one were also home to crocodiles and other dangerous creatures, so very few ever dared to enter the area.
Ignoring The Danger
Perhaps these risks were why the object had remained unexplored for so many decades. But Fred, David, and their team were determined to journey through the unforgiving landscape to see it up close. And they were also willing to face any danger that might lie ahead.
When they finally reached the site many hours later, there was a moment of silence within the team as everybody stood in awe at what they saw.
Every year, war enthusiasts had flocked to the country to see for themselves the wreckage that lay strewn over many parts of the islands. Papua New Guinea, because of its strategic location, it became the site of many clashes between the Australians, Japanese and Americans, all of which had set up military bases in different areas.
But Fred Hagen and David Tallichet were about to make the discovery of a lifetime.
What The Swamp Had Been Hiding
What the swamp had been hiding for so many years was actually a huge airplane. Locals had been calling it the Swamp Ghost because it was so well hidden deep in the jungle. Others had believed it to be haunted, as well.
Why was such a massive plane in the middle of the jungle? What happened to it and why hasn’t it been explored? The team was about to find out.
Face To Face With The Swamp Ghost
Had it been normal villagers, they would have left the plane untouched. But their team was so bent on finding out more about its mysterious origins that it wasn’t even minutes until one of them stepped up to enter it.
It was a plane from World War 2, they could tell from the structure, which wasn’t really a surprise because Papua New Guinea was a war hotbed and major conflict zone. What was even more incredible was that it seemed to have remained intact.
The plane’s location was probably the major reason why it was largely unexplored. The deep swamplands also made it almost impossible to remove from the site for further study.
But that didn’t deter the two men from finding a way to salvage the plane and, hopefully, be able to do what they do best — restore it to its old glory.
One of the men behind the planning of salvaging the plane was a man named David Tallichet. Tallichet is a World War II veteran, and has lots of experience in dealing with planes and other aircraft. He has a business of collecting and restoring military aircraft and is very passionate about his work.
Photo by Colin Crawford/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
During one point in his life, he was the proud owner of over 120 planes. His collection included amazing aircraft such as a B-25 Mitchell bomber and a P-40 Tomahawk. He was thrilled to add another plane to his list of salvaged military aircraft. But he still didn’t know exactly what type of plane was stuck in the swamp.
Upon further inspection of the aircraft, it was quickly discovered that the type of plane stuck in the swamp of Papua New Guinea was one of the exact same type of planes that Taliichet himself had piloted during the Second World War. The type of plane was a B-17E Flying Fortress.
With that in mind, both Hagen and Tallichet went to work on attempting to salvage the plane known as the “Swamp Ghost.” They started their endeavor in the 1980s, but it would take them decades to complete the extremely difficult task. Even though it was deemed impossible to salvage the plane, the two kept at it and weren’t going to be deterred by anything.
According to Hagen, the restoration of the plane was their greatest dream. “Because for some reason it captured the imagination of people from around the world…” he told South California Public Radio. The B-17E was appropriately nicknamed the Flying Fortress.
According to local legend, the plane’s nickname was given to the aircraft after a Seattle Times journalist saw the plane during a test flight back in 1935 and remarked that it looked like a flying fortress. Even more amazing than the find and the restoration of the plane is its backstory and just how exactly the plane came to be located half-submerged in the far-off swamp.
The Japanese Attack
Just one day before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Swamp Ghost was sent out on a special mission. Instead of flying with the Kangaroo Squadron that day, it was sent out on one of the earliest bombing missions of the Second World War.
Then, just a few short months later, disaster struck. The Japanese invaded the township of Rabaul, on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. The invasion was a threat to all allied troops stationed in the country and something had to be done to ensure their safety. But it would be a disaster for the Swamp Ghost.
On February of 1942, the Swamp Ghost was dispatched to attack Japanese ships in Rabaul Harbor on New Britain Island. But the majestic Swamp Ghost would tragically never return from its mission. Nothing quite went as planned on that day for the flying fortress.
The plane started experiencing problems when the bomb bay doors wouldn’t open. They had to make a second pass at their target before they were able to finally get them open. But by that time they had already drawn in anti-aircraft fire from the Japanese troops. Something that would bring about the downfall of the Swamp Ghost.
A dogfight ensued after the Swamp Ghost made its second pass on its target, which luckily was successful as they were able to finally get the bomb bay open, giving the enemy less time to counter-attack. The Swamp Ghost managed to take down three enemy fighters out of a dozen.
Then, suddenly, the worst happened. The Swamp Ghost was hit by enemy anti-aircraft flak. The plane didn’t explode, thankfully, but one of its wings was majorly damaged. The plane was now leaking fuel and headed for a crash landing in the New Guinean wilderness, unable to reach its destination.
The Swamp Ghost was due to return to the New Guinean capital city of Port Moresby, but there was no way that the crew could make that happen with a punctured wing and the massive leaking of fuel. Then the pilot spotted a perfect place to make a crash landing.
Coming up on the Own Stanley Mountains, the pilot spotted a soft wheat field which he believed would be a perfect place to make a crash landing. But unfortunately, not everything was what it appeared to be. What the pilot had initially thought was a large wheat field ended up being something far more treacherous.
The Middle Of Nowhere
What the pilot thought was a wheat field ended up being a swamp. A swamp that was inhabited by deadly and ferocious crocodiles. The Swam Ghost made its crash landing in the swamp with a relatively soft landing. Miraculously none of the crew members were seriously injured.
As good as that may have been for them, the plane’s crew was now stranded in the middle of a dangerous swamp in the middle of nowhere. Not knowing where they were or where they were going, they set off to find civilization and help to get back to their base located in the capital.
A Brief Reunion
The entire crew devastatingly all caught malaria while attempting to traverse the dangerous swamps. Fortunately, they came across a native that assisted them and took them back to his village. The kind local helped treat the crew and nurse them back to health. From there it was time for them to be reunited with US forces.
The crew of the flying fortress was eventually reunited with the US forces in the New Guinean capital of Port Moresby. The crew was welcomed back as heroes but their celebration didn’t last long. They were almost immediately sent out on a new mission.
Lost In Time
While the crew of the Swamp Ghost was redeployed on a new mission, their Flying Fortress was all but forgotten, about half-submerged in the distant swamp. As time went on and the war ended, no one thought twice about the Flying Fortress, and it was time to go home.
For decades the plane was known only to a few locals in nearby areas. US forces completely forgot about the plane and no effort was made to recover the plane from the wreck site. Then, in 1972 the plane was rediscovered by Australian troops flying over the swamp. The news hit international media and the Swamp Ghost became famous.
The Most Famous
When Hagen and Tellichet eventually got to the Swamp Ghost, they found that the aircraft was remarkably well preserved. Mostly because of being partially submerged in water and the difficult to get to the location. But that didn’t stop locals from ransacking the inside of the plane.
All of the mechanics and weaponry inside of the aircraft had already been looted by the time Hagen and Tellichet arrived at the plane. But still, the Flying Fortress is one of only four other planes of its kind and of all the wrecks that took place over Papua New Guinea, the Swamp Ghost is the most famous of them all.
The Swamp Ghost sat abandoned and long forgotten about for 64 years. It was located in the Agaiambo Swamp, around eight miles inland from the northern Papua New Guinean coast. But what Hagen and Tellichet didn’t know was just how much the plane meant as far as history goes. The Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii explains it best.
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 WWII. And it is the only B-17 in the world that still bears its battle scars,” the institute stated. But this wasn’t all.
A World War II Favorite
Boeing started producing the B-17 heavy bomber back in the 1930s. Since its introduction in 1938, the B-17 was still the third-most massively produced bomber of all time. It was used heavily during the Second World War, mostly in Europe against German forces. At least 12,731 aircraft were built.
During the war in the Pacific, the B-17 bomber was used in raids against Japanese shipping and airfields. The planes were stationed in Hawaii, Panama, and Alaska. The bomber was a strategic resource in the war and was responsible for dropping 640,000 tons of bombs (out of 1.5 million total) on Nazi Germany. But what did any of this mean for Hagen and Tellichet?
A Vision Of Modernization
The B-17 bomber was part of President Roosevelt’s vision to modernize the US military. The B-17 was a new generation of bombers that could carry a much more sizable payload and serve remote bases around the world. But Boeing didn’t just stop at the B-17; they continued to improve the engineering of the aircraft.
After the end of the war, the B-17 bomber was quickly phased out of use by the US Air Force. Most of the bombers were returned to the United States where they were sold for scrap and melted down. Only a few bombers remained in use, mainly for secondary roles such as transport, air-sea rescue, and photo-reconnaissance.
Hagen and Tellichet’s salvaging operation was finally completed in 2006, but only four years later would they receive permission to return the aircraft to American soil. Another issue that they had during their operation was convincing the locals to let them remove the B-17 bomber.
To the local villagers, the bomber was a relic sitting on holy land. The villagers had to be persuaded to hand over the Swamp Ghost. The locals even performed a ceremony to appease the spirits in the swamp. But not everyone was happy with the chief’s decision to let Hagen and Tellichet remove the relic.
Son Of A Local Chief
One man, who also happened to be the son of a local chief, set out to make sure that the B-17 bomber wasn’t removed. The man even went as far as to organize a group of people to help him intercept the plane before it could be moved to a barge offshore.
The efforts, however, were not effective. The bomber was lifted by a Russian-made military helicopter and moved by air to the barge that was awaiting them offshore. This left the chief’s son unable to stop the bomber’s removal, and he could only stand by and watch as it was lifted away.
The very first showing of the B-17 Flying Fortress after it had been removed from the swamp in Papua New Guinea was a viewing in Long Beach California. Surprisingly, many of the people in attendance were friends and family of the original crew of the bomber.
Everyone in attendance was thrilled with excitement to see that the long-lost plane had finally been returned to the United States. The bomber remains as a memorial for a horrific war that claimed millions of lives. Starting in 2013, the B-17 Flying Fortress has been on display at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor.
A Full Restoration
Now that the plane has been returned and is safely stored in a museum in Hawaii, the owners of the B-17 bomber plan to fully restore the plane back to its former glory. A task that is no easy undertaking. The cost of restoring the plane is going to be very expensive.
In total, the cost to restore the World War II B-17 bomber might exceed $5 million. That, however, is just a modest price for restoring a relic of this sort. After the B-17 is fully restored it is due to be moved to the Hangar 79 on Ford Island.
Still today, many of the locals in the rural Papua New Guinea area are upset that the plane was removed. The plane attracted tourists from far off places and some local cultures even formed spiritual beliefs surrounding the plane. Such a concept is generally regarded as a form of “cargo cult.”
A cargo cult is a system of beliefs, generally formed in highly underdeveloped societies, in which its members hold superstitious beliefs about items that fall from the sky from more advanced civilizations, such as technology or cargo. Still, to this day, there are many cargo cults in Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea was a very important strategic territory in the South West Pacific theater during the Second World War. Over 600 US planes crashed over the country alone, not including other allied or enemy forces which altogether would equal thousands of planes. But most of the wrecks go unnoticed by the local populations.
Due to the terrain in Papua New Guinea, many of the sites are located in near-impossible to reach areas. The country, while incredibly beautiful, is full of dangerous and impassible obstacles such as tropical rainforests, rugged mountain chains, savannas, and swamps. Such terrain also has a negative effect on the country’s population.
A Nation Divided
One of the challenges of finding anything in the area is the physical boundaries of the area. The topography of the country negatively affects its population because it renders a singular national identity almost impossible to achieve due to the separation between the populations inhabiting the country. Currently, there are about six million people that live in Papua New Guinea, most of whom live in remote and secluded areas.
Since the majority of the population lives in remote and isolated areas, there is very little unity among the people. Most people are loyal to their local clans and live a simplistic lifestyle of hunting wildlife and growing crops such as pawpaw, yams and other foods native to the area.
Caught In The Middle
The people of Papua New Guinea had led mainly isolated lives until foreigners arrived on the island. But when WWII came around, they found themselves in the middle of the conflict due to their strategic location between the Japanese Empire and allied Australia. The Papuans didn’t fight in the war for the most part, but they did help.
The Papuans assisted in the war effort by acting as service bearers — mainly carrying supplies and the wounded across the rugged mountainous terrain and steaming treacherous jungles. The country quickly became a graveyard and a memorial for the war. So much so, that it started attracting visitors.