Crashed P-38 Lightning: The Maid of Harlech

(Photograph ©TIGHAR 2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

In 1942, Second Lt. Robert F. “Fred” Elliot crash landed a P-38 Lightning fighter on a beach in Wales.  With the damaged aircraft lying on its belly, American airmen salvaged the nose guns but abandoned the P-38 where it came to rest.  Forgotten beneath decades of shifting sand, the aircraft dubbed the Maid of Harlech after the 13th century Welsh castle finally resurfaced in 2007, 65 years after it was left to nature.  Considered one of the most significant discoveries in recent aviation archeology, the race is on to recover the abandoned aircraft before the shifting sands once again make its location known.

(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

The P-38 (41-7677), the oldest surviving Eighth Air Force combat veteran, is covered by the Protection of Military Remains Act but nevertheless looting by callous souvenir hunters means its exact location has not been disclosed.  It’s ironic to think that nature has in this case protected a historical relic when normally the elements quickly reduce unmaintained metalic objects to rusty scrap.  In this case, the P-38 is remarkably free of corrosion.

(Images: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

Local aviation historian Matt Rimmer, working with TIGHAR, was granted a license to recover the aircraft and has kept an eye on the wreck since it came to the surface in 2007.  Plans to recover the P-38 through the Royal Air Force Museum unfortunately fell through, and TIGHAR is now looking at other options.  Thankfully the shifting sands have once again hidden the P-38 from prying eyes until the day comes when it can finally be exhumed.

(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

The 24-year-old pilot was on a gunnery training mission when a fuel supply problem forced him to make an emergency landing.  Though he escaped unhurt, he was shot down in combat over Tunisia less than three months later.  The Maid of Harlech may finally have given up her ghost, but Second Lt. Robert Elliot’s body and the aircraft he flew that day were never found.

For more abandoned aircraft and airfields, click the thumbnail below to explore our feature on Abandoned Aircraft, Airfields, Airbases and Airport Terminals.

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6 Lost Airfields of the United States


About the author: Tom





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