Evening Analysis
Craig, Ric, and Walt work on analysis in the local.

Matt Rimmer described his plight in an email to TIGHAR on September 13, 2007.

This obviously leaves me with a huge task which I cannot realistically carry out alone. I have no intention of attempting to make money out of this, my only aim is to see the aircraft preserved, preferably in the UK, as there is not a single P-38 in the UK despite the fact that the type was operated from here by the Eighth Air Force.

Is this the sort of project TIGHAR might become involved with?

The situation described was exactly the kind of historic preservation opportunity and emergency that TIGHAR is equipped to address.

TIGHAR executive director Richard Gillespie responded to the inquiry immediately and positively. He alerted Mr. David Morris, Curator of Aircraft at the Fleet Air Museum and a long-time member of TIGHAR. Mr. Morris passed the news to his counterparts at the Imperial War Museum and Royal Air Force Museum.  Meanwhile, Gillespie mobilized TIGHAR’s resources and, three weeks after the initial email, a seven person TIGHAR team was on the ground and in the water in Wales to assess the aircraft’s condition, describe and record the wreck site, and collect data that will be useful in recovery and conservation planning.

Legal Considerations

While speed and secrecy were essential in this case, adherence to applicable property law and historic preservation legislation is always the first priority. Before getting in touch with TIGHAR, our contact had already laid the groundwork for the needed survey. The wreck lies on county property. He coordinated his activities with county authorities and with Mark Walters, Planning Archaeologist for the local Archaeological Trust.  He also solicited the interest and advice of Nigel Nayling, Underwater Archaeologist at the University of Wales. 

Matt has applied to the Ministry of Defense for a license to recover the aircraft, and the license has been granted. Legal interaction with the wreck is governed by the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 and the terms of the license.  The Act of Parliament prohibits tampering with, damaging, moving, removing or unearthing any part of a crashed military aircraft in the United Kingdom.  The TIGHAR team was careful to conduct its survey of the site in compliance with those constraints and limited its activities to observation, measurement, and photography.

Kite Aerial Photography (KAP) was used with considerable success to get overhead photos of the site. The team collected information about portions of the P-38 that remain buried by using remote-sensing metal detection and probing.

Presumed Identity

Compliance with the Protection of Military Remains Act meant that the team was not able to search for the manufacturer’s data plate. However, the aircraft’s location, orientation, and all observable features are consistent with it being the USAAF 8th Air Force P-38F lost in a training accident as described in War Department, Air Corps, Form 14, Technical Report of Airplane Accident Classification Committee dated October 2, 1942.

On September 27, 1942 Second Lieutenant Robert F. Elliott of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) crash landed Lockheed P-38F 41-7677 in shallow water off a beach after losing power in both engines. Wartime records show no other P-38 lost on the coast of Wales. TIGHAR concurs with the initial assessment of the wreck’s identity. Pending the location and examination of the data plate, the preponderance of evidence is sufficiently strong to merit the assumption that the recently discovered wreck is P-38F-1-LO 41-7677 assigned to 49th Squadron, 14th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force.

USAF Policy

Before the TIGHAR team embarked for the UK, TIGHAR Senior Archaeologist Dr. Tom King informed the USAF Deputy Federal Preservation Officer of the P-38’s discovery and asked:

In considering how we might help the British Ministry of Defense and archaeological authorities in documenting and conceivably recovering and conserving such aircraft, we need to understand current U.S. Air Force policy on World War II submerged wrecks.

In subsequent correspondence, the USAF Cultural Resources Program Manager affirmed that USAF policy remains as expressed in Air Force Regulation AFR 126-7 “Historic Preservation.”

12. Downed aircraft. Aircraft that crashed before 19 November 1961, when a fire destroyed the pertinent Air Force records, and that remain wholly or partially unrecovered, are considered formally abandoned. The Air Force neither maintains title to, nor has property interest in, these aircraft. The authority for access to, and recovery of, these aircraft, as well as liability for damages associated with their recovery, are matters to be resolved between persons seeking recovery and landowners of the wreckage sites.
The USAF further maintains that the “Sunken Military Craft Act” (Public Law 108-375-OCT. 28, 2004 118 STAT. 2095) affirming government ownership of sunken ships and aircraft does not apply because USAF abandonment of pre-1961 aircraft wrecks pre-dates passage of the legislation. Whether USAF policy is in accordance with U.S. federal law has never been tested, but. the important point with regard to the Welsh P-38 is that the United States asserts no claim of ownership. Title to the aircraft would therefore appear to be entirely a matter for determination according to the laws of the United Kingdom.

The Lightning The Discovery The Accident Ownership
Significance The Survey Plans Participate

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