I once thought that it should be very hard to lose something as big as an airplane. When planes fly into deep water, high altitudes, ice, snow, jungle, or desert, it happens more often you'd think. Finding those planes many years later is a rare occurrence, but it happens. After the previous article 9 Lost and Found Airplanes, readers suggested other cases to look up, which led me to even more stories of planes recovered many years after they were lost.
1. Juliet Delta 321
The Lockheed LC-130 was a version of the C-130 Hercules cargo plane that was designed for Arctic conditions. It had skis in addition to wheels for landing gear. The Hercules named Juliet Delta 321 was put into service in Antarctica in 1960. On December 4th, 1971, the plane's solid rocket fuel bottles dislodged during takeoff and damaged two propellers and one engine. Pilot Ed Gabriel crash landed the plane, and the crew and passengers all survived with no injuries. The ten people lived in survival huts for three days before the weather was safe enough for rescue. The plane was left to be buried in the snow. In 1982, pictures were taken showing just the tail of the Hercules sticking out of the snow. A recovery effort brought the plane up in 1986, fifteen years after the crash. Parts of the plane were sold for more than enough money to pay for the recovery effort. Juliet Delta 321 was refurbished and put back into service in 1993, and was retired to Arizona in 1998.
2. Lake Mead's Bomber
On July 21, 1948, an Army Air Forces B-29A Superfortress bomber crashed into Lake Mead while on a scientific mission to study solar radiation. The pilot was told to fly as low as possible. Flying down to 300 feet above the lake, the inexperienced pilot with a malfunctioning altimeter dipped too low and bounced the plane across the water's surface. All four engines were damaged. The crew of five escaped in lifeboats, and the plane sunk to the bottom. It was not seen again for 53 years. Divers from In-Depth Consulting found the plane in 2001 using a side-scan sonar device. They announced the find in August of 2002. The plane remains at the bottom of the lake.
Daredevil pilot Charles Kingsford-Smith flew his plane named the Southern Cross on an attempt to set a speed record for flying from Australia to England in 1929. "Smithy" and his crew of two set off on March 30. Bad weather and bad navigation caused them to miss their planned stop at Wyndham and they set down near the Glenlg River. But this story is not about the Southern Cross. A search was launched to find Smithy and his crew. One of those looking for them was Keith Anderson, piloting the plane called the Kookaburra. It left Alice Springs had to land in the Tanami Desert due to malfunctions. The plane never took off again. The crew of the Southern Cross was found by another search plane. Meanwhile, back at the Kookaburra, Anderson and co-pilot Bobby Hitchcock died of dehydration before they were foundÂ two weeks later. The plane was abandoned in the desert for 49 years until it was recovered by Dick Smith. The Kookaburra's remains were taken to Alice Springs where they have been on display at the Central Australian Aviation Museum in Alice Springs since 1982.Â Image by Flickr user amandabhslater.
4. Operation Auca
In 1955, five Christian missionaries from the United States approached the Huaorani tribe living in the rain forest of Ecuador. The Huaorani were a violent tribe, sometimes called Auca (the enemies) by other tribes. The missionaries first dropped gifts from their plane, then contacted the tribe on the Curaray River. On January 8, 1956, all five missionaries were killed by Huaorani warriors with spears. Nate Saint was the pilot of the group. He owned a Piper aircraft the he used to ferry supplies to missions before he joined the four other missionaries. After he died, his plane sat in the sand of Palm Beach and became half buried for 38 years. The murders spurred others into volunteering as missionaries, and many the Huaorani were converted over the next few years, including some of those involved in the killings. In 1994, Bill Clapp of the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) identified the remains of a plane found in the sand as Nate Saint's. More airplane parts were then discovered in the surrounding area. The frame of the plane was reconstructed and is now on display at the MAF headquarters in Idaho.
5. The Maid of Harlech
On on September 27, 1942 Second Lieutenant Robert F. Elliott was piloting his US P-38 Lightning fighter plane on a training mission in Britain when low fuel forced him to land on a beach in Wales. The water landing damaged the plane's wing, but Elliot was unhurt. However, he was later shot down in combat and died only weeks after the ditching incident. According to official records, the fighter plane was salvaged, but that turned out to be not quite so. Beaches were closed to the public during wartime and sand gradually buried the plane. In July of 2007, a family spotted the plane, 65 years after it was left on the beach. The plane is now called the Maid of Harlech, and TIGHAR is raising money to fund the plane's recovery.
6. Star Dust
British South American Airways flight CS 59 took off from Buenos Aires, Argentina en route to Santiago, Chile on August 2nd, 1947 with three crew members and six passengers. The plane was called the Star Dust. The crew kept in contact with the ground via Morse code as the plane flew over the Andes mountains. The last three messages were the letters STENDEC, (which no one on the ground understood) and the plane was not heard from again. The armies of both Chile and Argentina scoured the mountains, but found no trace of the Star Dust. Over the next 50 years, many theories about the cryptic letters STENDEC and tall tales about the illustrious passengers of the Star Dust grew. In 1998, two mountain climbers found a Rolls-Royce airplane engine and some fabric in a glacier 15,000 up Mount Tupungato. In 2000, an expedition confirmed the crash site as that of the Star Dust.