3 Remarkably Intact B-17 Bomber Wrecks Discovered in Papua New Guinea


Military aircraft wrecks, especially those lingering from World War Two, are fascinating historical reminders of times of conflict and sacrifice. But few exist today, having been destroyed on impact, salvaged for scrap or looted by souvenir hunters. Those that do are often unrecognisable save for the odd rusting engine or twisted remnants of armour plating. In rare instances, however, a combination of successful crash landings and isolated locations has ensured the survival of some wartime aircraft. The three Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers featured here were rediscovered in the swamps, mountains and ocean floor of Papua New Guinea decades after they were lost in action. While one, known as the “Swamp Ghost“, has since been salvaged, all remain remarkable historical monuments to those that flew them.

The Gray Ghost

b-17-flying-fortress-papua-new-guinea-gray-ghost (Image: Alf Gillman, reproduced with permission)

Arguably one of the most impressive World War Two aircraft wrecks still in existence, this B-17 Flying Fortress was bound for the UK under the terms of a lend-lease agreement. But Pacific Theatre duties saw it diverted to Papua New Guinea and hastily repainted in US colours. In 1943, piloted by 1st Lt. Raymond S. Dau. from Virginia, the bomber left Port Moresby to attack a Japanese convoy off Lae.

b-17-gray-ghost-papua-new-guinea (Image: Alf Gillman, reproduced with permission)

The B-17 was crippled by anti-aircraft fire leaving Dau with no choice but to put the aircraft down. The Flying Fortress crash landed near Black Cat Pass in Papua New Guinea, breaking its back amidships but otherwise remaining reasonably intact. The crew survived the crash but radio operator Robert Albright later died from his wounds. Later nicknamed the “Gray Ghost”, the B-17, with paint fading to reveal its original British markings, has become a popular tourist attraction.

Black Jack (B-17F)


b-17-black-jack-2 (Images: Don Silcock, Indo Pacific Images, reproduced with permission)

Shortly before midnight on June 10, 1943, a B-17 Flying Fortress named “Black Jack” departed Port Moresby to bomb the Japanese airfields at Rabaul, New Britain. Eight hours later the aircraft would be lying on the ocean floor off Papua New Guinea. Its remarkably intact wreck lay undiscovered for 43 years.

The flight had been plagued by mechanical problems. After delivering its bombs on target, Black Jack encountered violent storms on the return flight. Pilot Ralph De Loach described the conditions as “the worst flying weather I’d ever seen in my life”.


b-17-black-jack-5 (Images: Don Silcock, Indo Pacific Images, reproduced with permission)

Unable to reach Port Moresby, the B-17F headed down the New Guinea coast towards Milne Bay. Co-pilot Joseph Moore, who had successfully ditched a bomber before, took the controls and set the aircraft down near the beach at Boga Boga. The crew evacuated and the aircraft sank to a depth of 50 metres.

Discovered in 1986 by wreck diver Rod Pearce, Black Jack’s remarkable condition, boasting fully intact guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, makes it one of the Pacific theatre’s most important and impressive aircraft wrecks.

The Swamp Ghost (B-17E)

swamp-ghost-b-17-2 (Images: Fred Hagen of Aero Archaeology, reproduced with permission)

Perhaps the most famous Boeing B-17 wreck ever found, Flying Fortress 41-2446 was discovered in 1972 during an RAAF helicopter exercise. Nicknamed the Swamp Ghost in reference to its resting place, the aircraft had been hit by enemy night fighters near Rabaul in East New Britain in 1942.


swamp-ghost-b-17-4 (Images: Fred Hagen of Aero Archaeology, reproduced with permission)

Captain Frederick ‘Fred’ Eaton, Jr crash landed the aircraft in the Agaiambo swamp of New Guinea’s Oro Province. Other than damage sustained by enemy fire, along with bent propellers and broken perspex due to the heavy landing, the B-17E was found to be in remarkable condition. Internally intact and minimally corroded, salvage plans were drawn up in 2006 and 70 years after it crashed, the Swamp Ghost was on display at the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California.

Keep reading – explore the Ghostly Images of Britain’s Wartime Airfields as seen on Google Earth.


Around the web

Become an Urban Ghosts Contributor!

Most Recent


Top Lists