Deeply buried missing planes challenge ‘slow and gradual’ preconceptions.
From a secret US Army air base in Greenland, sixP–38 Lightning fighter planes and two gigantic B–17 Flying Fortress bombers rose into the early dawn. The date was July 15, 1942, and they were headed for a British airfield to join the war against Hitler.
Heading east over the polar icecap, they ran into a massive blizzard. Flying blind, they heard that their first planned refueling stop, in Iceland, was ‘socked in’, forcing them to return to their home base. As they approached this, however, critically low on fuel, they found that it, too, was closed. Realising that their only hope was to crash-land on the icy wastes of Greenland’s east coast, they desperately searched till they found a break in the cloud cover.
The nose-wheel of the first plane to land hit a crevasse, which caused it to flip. Fortunately, the impact on the canopy of the 8-ton P–38 was cushioned by snow, and the pilot’s injuries were minor. After they saw this, the rest of the squadron came in with their wheels up for belly landings. The planes were only lightly damaged.
All the crewmen were rescued unharmed by dogsled, about nine days later. However, the planes had to be abandoned where they had slithered to a stop.1
In the years to follow, a few people occasionally recalled the legendary Lost Squadron of 1942, but it was only in 1980 that anyone thought of a salvage mission. U.S. airplane dealer Patrick Epps told his friend, architect Richard Taylor, that the planes would be like new. ‘All we’d have to do is shovel the snow off the wings, fill them with gas, crank them up and fly them off into the sunset. Nothing to it.’….
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