The Swamp Ghost had been sitting deep in the jungles of Papua New Guinea for years. No one knew where it had come from and only locals knew of its existence.
Some of the local groups treated it like a holy object and brought offerings of flowers and other tributes to worship it as a supernatural object.
A trained eye would easily be able to see that this object held both great monetary and historical value. However, the local beliefs made it difficult to explore or remove it from the area.
One day, however, two men arrived who would make a brave attempt to reach it and solve the mystery of the Swamp Ghost.
1972 saw one of the earliest sightings of the Swamp Ghost when a routine Royal Australian Airforce flight over the Papua New Guinea jungle spotted it.
They weren’t searching for anything and were just having some normal conversation during the flight when they spotted something hiding deep in the thick green jungle below.
White Among The Green
All they could see for miles in every direction. Then something white suddenly stood out among the thick green foliage below.
The shape was unusual and due to their altitude, they couldn’t quite discern its exact location. However, their curiosity would get the better of them.
The pilots moved their helicopter closer to the site. The area around it was mainly comprised of swampland. As they drew closer the object became bigger and bigger.
It was clear that it was partially submerged in the swamp, the rest of it covered by the thick grass that grew in the area. Between the grass and the swamp, it was difficult to figure out what exactly the white object was.
There are many different kinds of creatures that call the swamps of Papua New Guinea home. The pilots couldn’t ignore the possibility that they might be seeing some large creature in the water.
Then again, the area saw a lot of conflict during WWII so the fact that it could be a military or historical object also had to be considered a possibility. The pilots were no closer to figuring out the mystery.
Post War Visitors
The island in question was not exactly hidden or unknown. Many people traveled to explore that island and the amazing treasure to behold. The island had many beautiful and untouched beaches but these were not what the travelers were coming to see.
They wanted to see the remnants of the war that were still left behind.
War enthusiasts poured into the country every year to visit and view the wreckage and remnants of the war that were littered all over the islands. Because of its location, Papua New Guinea became a central point in the war between the Americans, Australians, and the Japanese. All three nations built bases on different parts of the country.
Among these visitors were two war buffs who felt that there was something more to explore concerning the strange sighting that was made in 1972. They were determined to get answers no matter how difficult it might be.
After hearing about the sighting and how locals worshipped the mysterious object as some sort of god, Fred Hagen and David Tallichet knew that they had to solve the mystery and answer all the questions surrounding it.
They were both war historians in their own right and had a lot of experience with war relic restoration. They didn’t know if this would be enough for what they hoped to find, however.
Fred Hagen was an experienced archeologist. He was always looking for new relics and artifacts that they could find. When the pair decided to travel to Papua New Guinea to search for the mysterious white object it wasn’t difficult for them to make the necessary arrangements.
They also contacted some locals to arrange for the equipment they would need to pull off their ambitious plan.
Exploring The Unknown
As soon as everything was arranged and in place, Fred, David, and their team headed out to the jungles of Papua New Guinea to begin their search. They had no idea what the swamps had in store for them nor what to expect from the terrain they would face.
The excitement of exploring an untouched site fueled their passion and made all obstacles seem surmountable.
“Don’t mind the danger,” they thought. “This thing needed to be seen and understood — and it is us who will be getting this done.”
This kind of thinking wasn’t difficult if you had no idea of what you were about to face. When they finally entered the jungle their excitement was palpable.
Discovering The Truth
It wasn’t easy reaching the object, however. It was deep within the swamps of Papua New Guinea and while reaching it on foot was the only way, it still wasn’t easy to do. Wading through waist-high water and thick mud made for slow going.
They also had to watch out for crocodiles and over dangerous creatures that called the swamps home. This also meant that there was no trail to follow as few people ever ventured into the swamps.
These risks were likely one of the main reasons why the mysterious site had remained unexplored for so many years. This team of explorers was determined to reach their goal, no matter how difficult the terrain may be and regardless of any dangers they may face along the way.
After many hours they finally reached the site. What they saw upon arrival took their breath away.
The Secret Unveiled
The secret that the swamp hid so well for decades was in actual fact a huge plane. The locals referred to it as the Swamp Ghost because of how well it was hidden in the deep jungle. Some also believed that the plane was, in fact, haunted.
How such a massive plane ended up there and why it hadn’t been explored before was the real mystery, and the team was about to learn the truth.
The Face Of The Swamp Ghost
The locals would have left the plane alone but the team had every intention of learning the plane’s origins and history. It was only a few minutes after arriving at the site before one of the team entered the plane.
They could tell that it was a WWII era plane but what made it so fascinating was the fact that it was still intact.
One of the main reasons why the plane remained unexplored was due to its inaccessible location. This also made it virtually impossible to remove it from its location to study it further elsewhere. Fred and David, however, were undeterred.
They were determined to salvage this amazing relic and restore it to its former glory.
David Tallichet was the second half of the duo behind this expedition. As a WWII veteran himself, he had plenty of experience with aircraft. He collected restored military aircraft as a job and was passionate about it.
There was a time when he owned more than 120 planes including a B-52 bomber as well as a P-40 Tomahawk. He was excited at the thought of adding the plane in the swamp to his collection. They still had no idea what kind of plane it was, however.
When they explored the plane they quickly identified the type of plane they had found. It was a B-17E Flying Fortress! Tallichet himself had piloted such a plane during the war. The team went to work and tried to find a way to salvage the Swamp Ghost.
They started their project in the 1980s but it would take decades before they completed their task. Many considered it impossible but the team was determined to succeed.
According to Hagen, the restoration of the plane was their greatest dream. “Because for some reason it captured the imagination of people from around the world…” he told South California Public Radio. The B-17E was appropriately nicknamed the Flying Fortress.
According to local legend, the plane’s nickname was given to the aircraft after a Seattle Times journalist saw the plane during a test flight back in 1935 and remarked that it looked like a flying fortress. Even more amazing than the find and the restoration of the plane is its backstory and just how exactly the plane came to be located half-submerged in the far-off swamp.
The Japanese Attack
Just one day before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Swamp Ghost was sent out on a special mission. Instead of flying with the Kangaroo Squadron that day, it was sent out on one of the earliest bombing missions of the Second World War. Then, just a few short months later, disaster struck. The Japanese invaded the township of Rabaul, on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea.
The invasion was a threat to all allied troops stationed in the country and something had to be done to ensure their safety. But it would be a disaster for the Swamp Ghost.
In February of 1942, the Swamp Ghost was dispatched to attack Japanese ships in Rabaul Harbor on New Britain Island. But the majestic Swamp Ghost would tragically never return from its mission. Nothing quite went as planned on that day for the flying fortress. The plane started experiencing problems when the bomb bay doors wouldn’t open. They had to make a second pass at their target before they were able to finally get them open. But by that time they had already drawn in anti-aircraft fire from the Japanese troops.
Something that would bring about the downfall of the Swamp Ghost.
A dogfight ensued after the Swamp Ghost made its second pass on its target, which luckily was successful as they were able to finally get the bomb bay open, giving the enemy less time to counter-attack. The Swamp Ghost managed to take down three enemy fighters out of a dozen. Then, suddenly, the worst happened. The Swamp Ghost was hit by enemy anti-aircraft flak.
The plane didn’t explode, thankfully, but one of its wings was majorly damaged. The plane was now leaking fuel and headed for a crash landing in the New Guinean wilderness, unable to reach its destination.
The Swamp Ghost was due to return to the New Guinean capital city of Port Moresby, but there was no way that the crew could make that happen with a punctured wing and the massive leaking of fuel. Then the pilot spotted a perfect place to make a crash landing. Coming up on the Own Stanley Mountains, the pilot spotted a soft wheat field which he believed would be a perfect place to make a crash landing.
But unfortunately, not everything was what it appeared to be. What the pilot had initially thought was a large wheat field ended up being something far more treacherous.
The Middle Of Nowhere
What the pilot thought was a wheat field ended up being a swamp. A swamp that was inhabited by deadly and ferocious crocodiles. The Swam Ghost made its crash landing in the swamp with a relatively soft landing. Miraculously none of the crew members were seriously injured. As good as that may have been for them, the plane’s crew was now stranded in the middle of a dangerous swamp in the middle of nowhere.
Not knowing where they were or where they were going, they set off to find civilization and help to get back to their base located in the capital.
A Brief Reunion
The entire crew devastatingly all caught malaria while attempting to traverse the dangerous swamps. Fortunately, they came across a native that assisted them and took them back to his village. The kind local helped treat the crew and nurse them back to health. From there it was time for them to be reunited with US forces.
The crew of the flying fortress was eventually reunited with the US forces in the New Guinean capital of Port Moresby. The crew was welcomed back as heroes but their celebration didn’t last long. They were almost immediately sent out on a new mission.
Lost In Time
While the crew of the Swamp Ghost was redeployed on a new mission, their Flying Fortress was all but forgotten, about half-submerged in the distant swamp. As time went on and the war ended, no one thought twice about the Flying Fortress, and it was time to go home. For decades the plane was known only to a few locals in nearby areas. US forces completely forgot about the plane and no effort was made to recover the plane from the wreck site.
Then, in 1972 the plane was rediscovered by Australian troops flying over the swamp. The news hit international media and the Swamp Ghost became famous.
The Most Famous
When Hagen and Tellichet eventually got to the Swamp Ghost, they found that the aircraft was remarkably well preserved. Mostly because of being partially submerged in water and the difficult to get to the location. But that didn’t stop locals from ransacking the inside of the plane. All of the mechanics and weaponry inside of the aircraft had already been looted by the time Hagen and Tellichet arrived at the plane.
But still, the Flying Fortress is one of only four other planes of its kind and of all the wrecks that took place over Papua New Guinea, the Swamp Ghost is the most famous of them all.
The Swamp Ghost sat abandoned and long forgotten about for 64 years. It was located in the Agaiambo Swamp, around eight miles inland from the northern Papua New Guinean coast. But what Hagen and Tellichet didn’t know was just how much the plane meant as far as history goes. The Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii explains it best.
The Flying Fortress is “arguably the world’s only intact and unretired World War II-era B-17E bomber, a one-of-a-kind example of an aircraft that played an indispensable role in winning WWII. And it is the only B-17 in the world that still bears its battle scars,” the institute stated. But this wasn’t all.
A World War II Favorite
Boeing started producing the B-17 heavy bomber back in the 1930s. Since its introduction in 1938, the B-17 was still the third-most massively produced bomber of all time. It was used heavily during the Second World War, mostly in Europe against German forces. At least 12,731 aircraft were built. During the war in the Pacific, the B-17 bomber was used in raids against Japanese shipping and airfields.
The planes were stationed in Hawaii, Panama, and Alaska. The bomber was a strategic resource in the war and was responsible for dropping 640,000 tons of bombs (out of 1.5 million total) on Nazi Germany. But what did any of this mean for Hagen and Tellichet?
A Vision Of Modernization
The B-17 bomber was part of President Roosevelt’s vision to modernize the US military. The B-17 was a new generation of bombers that could carry a much more sizable payload and serve remote bases around the world. But Boeing didn’t just stop at the B-17; they continued to improve the engineering of the aircraft. After the end of the war, the B-17 bomber was quickly phased out of use by the US Air Force. Most of the bombers were returned to the United States where they were sold for scrap and melted down.
Only a few bombers remained in use, mainly for secondary roles such as transport, air-sea rescue, and photo-reconnaissance.
Hagen and Tellichet’s salvaging operation was finally completed in 2006, but only four years later would they receive permission to return the aircraft to American soil. Another issue that they had during their operation was convincing the locals to let them remove the B-17 bomber. To the local villagers, the bomber was a relic sitting on holy land.
The villagers had to be persuaded to hand over the Swamp Ghost. The locals even performed a ceremony to appease the spirits in the swamp. But not everyone was happy with the chief’s decision to let Hagen and Tellichet remove the relic.
Son Of A Local Chief
One man, who also happened to be the son of a local chief, set out to make sure that the B-17 bomber wasn’t removed. The man even went as far as to organize a group of people to help him intercept the plane before it could be moved to a barge offshore.
The efforts, however, were not effective. The bomber was lifted by a Russian-made military helicopter and moved by air to the barge that was awaiting them offshore. This left the chief’s son unable to stop the bomber’s removal, and he could only stand by and watch as it was lifted away.
The very first showing of the B-17 Flying Fortress after it had been removed from the swamp in Papua New Guinea was a viewing in Long Beach California. Surprisingly, many of the people in attendance were friends and family of the original crew of the bomber. Everyone in attendance was thrilled with excitement to see that the long-lost plane had finally been returned to the United States.
The bomber remains as a memorial for a horrific war that claimed millions of lives. Starting in 2013, the B-17 Flying Fortress has been on display at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor.
A Full Restoration
Now that the plane has been returned and is safely stored in a museum in Hawaii, the owners of the B-17 bomber plan to fully restore the plane back to its former glory. A task that is no easy undertaking. The cost of restoring the plane is going to be very expensive.
In total, the cost to restore the World War II B-17 bomber might exceed $5 million. That, however, is just a modest price for restoring a relic of this sort. After the B-17 is fully restored it is due to be moved to the Hangar 79 on Ford Island.
Still today, many of the locals in the rural Papua New Guinea area are upset that the plane was removed. The plane attracted tourists from far off places and some local cultures even formed spiritual beliefs surrounding the plane. Such a concept is generally regarded as a form of “cargo cult.”
A cargo cult is a system of beliefs, generally formed in highly underdeveloped societies, in which its members hold superstitious beliefs about items that fall from the sky from more advanced civilizations, such as technology or cargo. Still, to this day, there are many cargo cults in Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea was a very important strategic territory in the southwest Pacific theater during the Second World War. Over 600 US planes crashed over the country alone, not including other allied or enemy forces which altogether would equal thousands of planes. But most of the wrecks go unnoticed by the local populations.
Due to the terrain in Papua New Guinea, many of the sites are located in near-impossible to reach areas. The country, while incredibly beautiful, is full of dangerous and impassible obstacles such as tropical rainforests, rugged mountain chains, savannas, and swamps. Such terrain also has a negative effect on the country’s population.
A Nation Divided
One of the challenges of finding anything in the area is the physical boundaries of the area. The topography of the country negatively affects its population because it renders a singular national identity almost impossible to achieve due to the separation between the populations inhabiting the country. Currently, there are about six million people that live in Papua New Guinea, most of whom live in remote and secluded areas.
Since the majority of the population lives in remote and isolated areas, there is very little unity among the people. Most people are loyal to their local clans and live a simplistic lifestyle of hunting wildlife and growing crops such as pawpaw, yams and other foods native to the area.
Caught In The Middle
The people of Papua New Guinea had led mainly isolated lives until foreigners arrived on the island. But when WWII came around, they found themselves in the middle of the conflict due to their strategic location between the Japanese Empire and allied Australia. The Papuans didn’t fight in the war for the most part, but they did help.
The Papuans assisted in the war effort by acting as service bearers — mainly carrying supplies and the wounded across the rugged mountainous terrain and steaming treacherous jungles. The country quickly became a graveyard and a memorial for the war. So much so, that it started attracting visitors.