The Swamp Ghost

B-17E 41-2446 Accidental Visit December 1976
Photos December 1976 All photos copyright by Jack Mierzejewski, reproduced with permission.

I'm a Brit born of Polish parents in England (my dad flew Spitfires in Polish 308 Squadron), Now I'm a naturalized Canadian. I visited the B-17 in December 1976 with a Bell JetRanger 206 helicopter and landed on the right wing tip.

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Accidental Discovery
We were on a routine Geological Survey flight and had never, ever heard of the Swamp Ghost. It was by a sheer fluke that we happened across it! We were on our way from Port Moresby by helicopter to a maintenance job on the Mount Lamington volcanic observatory. (I was just recovering from a bout of hepatitis, so this was just a pleasure trip for me, rather than a work project.) A low ceiling kept us at a height of about 800 ft, when just by chance we flew right over the Swamp Ghost. Of course we circled around the bomber for something like 10-15 minutes, while I clicked off the aerial shots (using Agfa slide film, which gives the grass its yellowish shades).

We were too heavy to land, but the pilot (Peter Hooper) promised that he would try to land on our return after we'd unloaded our gear in Popondetta. Two days later, he did just that. I remember him asking me to get out of the helicopter, while he sat with he sat with his hands and feet on the controls, ready to react, and to give the helicopter a big shake just to make sure it didn't slide off. I grabbed the skid leg, and pushed with all my might, getting no reaction. So Peter shut down the helicopter.

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All three of us were pilots: Peter Hooper was a professional helicopter pilot with Ferguson Helicopters, Paddy Ryan, my colleague, was a technician working for the Geological Survey, but also a licensed commercially-rated fixed wing pilot, and though I hadn't yet acquired my PPL then, I was a certificated glider pilot. So once we spotted the old girl, we just had to return to land on her wing and inspect her closely. I tried very hard to see traces of the landing roll (slide?) from the air, and thought I detected that a slight swing to one side had occurred before the bomber stopped.

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Impressions of the Ghost
This time I was shooting with Kodak Kodachrome 64, which gives the photos their bluey-green hues. We all realized that we were doing something totally unique, and were overwhelmed by the experience. I guess that we spent about 30 minutes on the plane (necessary anyway to cool the turbine before we could restart the helicopter). I was stunned by how complete the plane was.

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My feeling was that this lady should remain untouched if at all possible. 50 cal rounds littered the wing. I certainly would not have taken possibly unstable live rounds.  I took nothing from the wreck, because I considered it a frozen piece of history that should not be interfered with.  At that time the only reasonable access was by air, so the plane's sanctity seemed assured! Unfortunately, my colleague, an electronics technician who was also a commercially-licensed pilot (and so should have known better), decided to take some electronics parts as a souvenir.

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Interior of the bomber
There was water everywhere inside, though it wasn't visible from the air (as the B-17 skipper discovered!), but once we landed, it could be seen between the grass stalks and bushes, and certainly the belly of the aircraft was flooded. I dropped down through the hatch into the aircraft, and remember walking forward past the radio operator's position (everything still in place, of course, with huge radio valves) to the cockpit (instrument panel gone, everything else still pretty much there). But because of the water and a fear of snakes, I elected not to go back to the rear gunner's position (to my eternal regret). There was no footpath to the plane, as I've seen in more recent photos (including the National Geographic one).


 
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