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WWII bomber returns to Hawaii

By Star-Advertiser & news reports

LAST UPDATED: 1:29 a.m. HST, Apr 11, 2013

A famous World War II B-17 bomber arrived Wednesday at the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor.

It didn't fly in, however. Instead, it arrived by the truckload — in seven Matson containers with Honolulu police escort, to be exact.

Once at the museum, the history of the "Swamp Ghost" will be retold the way the Flying Fortress was lost in 1942 and rediscovered three decades later in a swamp in Papua New Guinea.

B-17E 41-2446 was one of the bombers in the Kangaroo Squadron stationed in Townsville, Australia, the Pacific Aviation Museum said. It was to have been one of the B-17s in the flight that made it to Hickam Army Air Field during the December 7, 1941 attack.

It was delayed due to engine problems but flew to Hickam on December 17 and then leapfrogged its way to Townsville, Australia. On the night of February 22, 1942, five B-17s took off from Townsville with the mission of attacking ships at Rabaul, a harbor of Japanese-held New Britain. The mission was the first American heavy bomber offensive raid of World War II.

The B-17 never made it back. Having sustained damage from enemy fire that caused the aircraft to run out of fuel, it crash-landed in the remote primitive Agaiambo swamp on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, according to the museum. Over the next several days, the nine-member crew battled malaria, fatigue and heat exhaustion, while they hacked their way through razor-sharp swamp grass to safety. Amazingly, all nine men made it back to the base alive.

Having crash-landed in one of the most remote locations on Earth, the aircraft virtually "disappeared" and slipped into an oblivion that lasted three decades, until Australian soldiers on routine maneuvers spotted the aircraft in 1972, still partially submerged in the swamp and nicknamed it Swamp Ghost.

To the soldiers' amazement, it was found to be in remarkable condition and fully intact; the machine guns were in place, fully loaded and, in the cabin, there was a thermos with what used to be coffee. It soon became obvious that this plane would become the best-preserved example of a combat B-17 in existence, the Pacific Aviation Museum said.

Over the next 30 years, David C. Tallichet and the Swamp Ghost Salvage Team attempted to recover the bomber. The government of Papua New Guinea became involved. Finally, after years of negotiations, it was cleared to return to the United States in 2010. In 2011, Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor began negotiations to receive the aircraft.

"We are absolutely thrilled that this national treasure will call Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor home," said Kenneth DeHoff, the museum's executive director. "The B-17E 'Swamp Ghost' will be one of the crown jewels in our aircraft collection. While we restore these aircraft to static display standards of aviation museums globally, this one will take us several years to raise the funds to do so. We expect it to cost $5 million dollars."

The museum said when funds are received and restoration is complete, the B-17E Flying Fortress will be on display in a specially constructed outdoor exhibit, resembling the Papua New Guinea swamp in which it was found.

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