Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

6T News6T News

Latest News

Fisherman dredges up wreckage from WWII P-47 Thunderbolt planes that collided in 1944

Teenage fisherman Alex Wightman has helped solve a 78-year-old mystery about the fate of three American pilots whose fighter jets went missing over the North Sea during World War II

A teenage fisherman has helped solve a 78-year-old mystery about the fate of three American pilots whose fighter jets went missing over the North Sea during World War II.

Sixteen-year-old Alex Wightman was fishing for Dover sole when his nets brought up part of a plane’s cockpit and part of its dashboard.

Historians believe the wreckage is from one of three P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft that disappeared in a thick cloud over the East Anglia coast in 1944.

It was speculated that the fighters had accidentally collided while in close formation and plunged into the sea.

But there were no witnesses to determine where the planes had crashed and no wreckage or bodies were ever found, leading the pilots – Donald Funcheon, Claude Mussey and Dale Stream – to go missing.

Mr Wightman, who is apprenticed to his family fishing business, discovered the remains of one of the planes around three miles from Dunwich, Suffolk.

Teenage fisherman Alex Wightman has helped solve a 78-year-old mystery about the fate of three American pilots whose fighter jets went missing over the North Sea during World War II

Teenage fisherman Alex Wightman has helped solve a 78-year-old mystery about the fate of three American pilots whose fighter jets went missing over the North Sea during World War II

The 16-year-old was fishing for Dover sole off Dunwich, Suffolk, when his nets brought up part of a plane's cockpit and part of its dashboard.  Historians believe the wreckage is from one of three P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft that disappeared in a thick cloud over the East Anglia coast in 1944.

The 16-year-old was fishing for Dover sole off Dunwich, Suffolk, when his nets brought up part of a plane’s cockpit and part of its dashboard. Historians believe the wreckage is from one of three P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft that disappeared in a thick cloud over the East Anglia coast in 1944.

P47-D LIGHTNING

Produced between 1941 and 1945, the Thunderbolt was used mainly by the US Air Force, the French Air Force and the RAF.

More than 15,600 aircraft were manufactured during this time and served in all theaters of war.

Each aircraft was equipped with eight .50 caliber machine guns and the pilot was protected by an armored cabin.

It had a wingspan of 40 feet (12 meters) and a top speed of 440 miles per hour (700 km/h).

It was heavily armed, with eight wing-mounted 0.50-inch machine guns and up to ten five-inch rockets under its wings.

It could also carry a bomb load of up to 2,500 pounds.

The aircraft also had a well-armored cockpit, while its engine was remarkably resistant to battle damage.

The aircraft played an important role in the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944.

It was the most important American fighter in Europe, outnumbering the P-38 Lightning and the P-51 Mustang combined.

The teenager realized there was something heavy in his nets and was amazed to see he had pulled up pieces of wreckage on September 9.

He said: “Me and my skipper Jeffery Melton were out when the net tightened. It was weird because we felt something snag the net.

“We could see the dent on sonar and just wondered what it was because it was heavy. I couldn’t believe it when we put the nets in the boat and found the remains.

“This part of the sea is about 19 meters deep. I wonder what else could be there, as it is one of the main flight paths of WWII aircraft.

“The bump on the sonar shows there must be more out there.”

Mr Wightman believed he could even smell aviation fuel on the twisted metal wreckage when he cleaned it up and examined it on the deck of his family’s boat, Georgie Girl.

He said: “We could still smell the gasoline when we put the parts on the boat.

“Our first thought was to speak with historians and donate our findings to a museum.”

Mr Wightman posted photos of his discovery on Facebook, which alerted local aviation historian Bob Collis and John Soanes of the Port of Lowestoft Research Society.

The couple realized the wreckage was from the cockpit of a P-47 Thunderbolt and contacted the Halesworth Aviation Museum, which is on the site of the former air base where three fighter squadrons were based from July 1943 to April 1944.

Richard Pymar, secretary and founder of the museum, realized that the wreckage had been found in the area where the three planes had collided.

There were no witnesses to determine where the planes had crashed and no wreckage or bodies were ever found, leading the pilots - Donald Funcheon (pictured), Claude Mussey and Dale Stream - to be brought down missing in action.

There were no witnesses to determine where the planes had crashed and no wreckage or bodies were ever found, leading the pilots – Donald Funcheon (pictured), Claude Mussey and Dale Stream – to be brought down missing in action.

Claude Mussey

Dale Creek

Claude Mussey and Dale Stream are pictured above in their pilot uniforms. The men were reported missing in action with Donald Duncheon

Produced between 1941 and 1945, the Thunderbolt was used mainly by the US Air Force, the French Air Force and the RAF

Produced between 1941 and 1945, the Thunderbolt was used mainly by the US Air Force, the French Air Force and the RAF

He said he was certain it was from one of three aircraft from the 61st Fighter Squadron of the USAAF 56th Fighter Group that were on a mission to escort B-17 Flying Fortress or Liberator bombers during a bombing mission in Berlin on March 22, 1944.

Mr Pymar said: “The records clearly show that there were only three Thunderbolts lost in this area and they were all lost on the same day.”

“We have an account from another pilot on the same mission who says they were all flying in close formation 5,000 feet above the coast when they entered heavy cloud.

“When the pilot emerged from the cloud, his three Squadron colleagues who were to his left were no longer there.

“They were believed to have collided and the pilots were reported missing at Madingley American War Cemetery Memorial near Cambridge.

“Mid-air collisions between friendly aircraft were common, but normally involved two aircraft at once. It was very unusual for three to collide.

The wreckage, including the left side of the instrument panel, is now on display, along with other wartime artifacts at the Halesworth Aviation Museum.

The wreckage, including the left side of the instrument panel, is now on display, along with other wartime artifacts at the Halesworth Aviation Museum.

Mr Wightman believed he could even smell aviation fuel on the twisted metal wreckage when he cleaned it up and examined it on the deck of his family's Georgie Girl boat (pictured)

Mr Wightman believed he could even smell aviation fuel on the twisted metal wreckage when he cleaned it up and examined it on the deck of his family’s Georgie Girl boat (pictured)

“But they had to fly in close formation to stay in contact with each other because they could get lost quite easily.”

“This wreckage is clearly from one of the planes that crashed that day, but we don’t know which one. We are conducting further investigations to see if we can find out which plane it is.

“It’s sobering to look at the dashboard and realize that a young man, probably around 20 years old, was staring at it as he struggled to save his life.”

“We are delighted that he has been found after all these years and is helping to provide hard evidence of what happened on that terrible day in 1944.”

The wreckage, including the left side of the instrument panel, is now on display, along with other wartime artifacts at the Halesworth Aviation Museum.

Mr Pymar added: ‘Although the pilots did not return, at least part of one of the aircraft did return to Halesworth.’ To have that feedback is truly amazing.

“The bank dial on the dashboard still works as it has a small spirit level which is still intact.”

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

Business

The FTSE 100 recorded its best month for two years in a boost for investors in a roller coaster year. It added another 0.8%,...

Latest News

Official timeline December 8, 2019 – Earliest date China recognized an infection December 31st – China first reported ‘pneumonia of unknown cause’ to World...

Latest News

Puppy in charge! Dogs prefer ELECTRIC cars to petrol or diesel vehicles – the smoother ride reduces their heart rate by up to 30%...

Trending News

A 16-year-old boy is charged with murder in the death of a 17-year-old who was stabbed to death in Manchester on Tuesday Teenager today...