The Agaimbo swamp is located in one of the most remote regions of Papua New Guinea. It is infested by malaria–carrying mosquitoes and huge crocodiles. The vegetation is dense and the intense heat is overpowering.
In fact, it is the last place in the world you would expect to find a Second World War bomber plane. That, however, is exactly what was discovered there in 1972 by members of the Australian Air Force.
The bomber was a B-17E Flying Fortress, a four-engine heavy bomber used by the United States Air Force. It was originally piloted by Captain Fred Eaton and took part in one of the first air attacks by the United States Army Air Force during the Second World War.
Up until 1941, America had tried to stay relatively detached from bloody conflict in Europe. After the unprecedented events of the First World War, the public were not particularly keen to see troops back in action only two decades later.
However, that all changed when Japan, an ally of Hitler and the Axis powers, launched a massive assault on the United States base at Pearl Harbor. Thousands of American lives were lost, and this open and unprovoked act of aggression called for only one possible response. War was declared.
Although the United States did send a large number of troops to fight the Nazi forces in Europe, they also face a heated battle in the Pacific Theater. The Japanese Empire had a powerful military at its disposal, and they weren’t going down without a fight. The Pacific War would see more 100,000 American servicemen killed.
However, against all the odds, the crash of the B-17E Flying Fortress did not put Captain Fred Eaton and his men among that number.
The bomber was intercepted by Japanese Fighters after a raid on ships at Japanese-occupied New Britain. The airplane suffered numerous hits and eventually crash-landed in Papua New Guinea – not because of the damage to the airplane, but because it ran out of fuel.
Eaton and his men were on their way back to base at Long Reach in Queensland, Australia, but they crashed into Agaimbo Swamp on February 23, 1942.
They survived six weeks of struggling on foot, fighting malaria and terrible heat. When the crew was reunited with American troops, these heroic individuals were immediately assigned to another aircraft and were flying again within a week.
Coincidentally, the B-17E was assigned to the Kangaroo Squadron, which flew into Pearl Harbor from San Francisco during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. This occurrence contributed to the disaster because U.S. radar personnel on Hawaii assumed the incoming Japanese attack wave represented the squadron’s expected arrival.
Swamp Ghost was not with the squadron on that fateful day. Instead, it flew in shortly after the attack.
It was not until the 1980’s that efforts were made to remove the bomber from the swamp. David Tallichet, an antique plane collector, who had been a World War II air pilot himself, began the huge task.
He was helped by his family and an aircraft salvage expert named Alfred Hagen. By 2010 the job was finished. They nicknamed the plane ‘Swamp Ghost.’
It is now famous, and historians and aviation enthusiasts know it as the ‘Holy Grail’ of military aviation.
Swamp Ghost was believed to be the best-preserved B-17E, out of only four that have been recovered. The plane was salvaged in 2006 and moved to Lae wharf where it lay waiting for permission to be transferred to the United States.
By February 2010, the what remained of the bomber had been cleared for import to the United States. It was transported back to Hawaii to be displayed at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor where it arrived on April 10, 2013.