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Search Chronology Locations Aircraft Vessels Missing In Action (MIA)

Alfred Hagen
Aero Archeology Ltd

NOTE: Mr. Hagen has repeatedly declined to be interviewed by Pacific Wreck. He did submit the following text written by him and two emails related to one of his salvages. This text is presented verbatim. The only alteration is the addition of historical links to aircraft mentioned and corrections specified in brackets.

Search For MIA Airmen & Missing Planes
by Alfred Hagen

Click For EnlargementI have been asked occasionally why I care so passionately about a bunch of dead guys that died far away in a place most people never heard of. My work has not been morbid and it has not been about dead men. I have celebrated life. I have celebrated the lives of a wonderful generation of young men and women. My life has been enriched immeasurably by the experience.

We are gathered here today in a celebration of life, a celebration of service in a cause larger than life and a celebration of the lives sacrificed for that cause. We gather together, not just for drinks and conversation, but to remember the beauty of youth, the excitement of living through dangerous times and to remember those comrades who have fallen victim to the ravages of war and time. We are here to remember a group of bright and courageous young men who left the comfort and security of their homes to fly as airmen in the greatest War that mankind has ever experienced. Many did not return from that war. A few returned after the passage of over 50 years as a result of my search for missing aircraft in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. It has been a great privilege for me to bring several of these men home for burial. As I brought them back to their hometowns, back to Arlington, I realized that their World has changed. Their hometowns have changed. Their families and their friends have grown old without them. But those young men have not changed and they never will. They died in the fullest flower of youth. They will never know age. They died for their country. Much has changed but not the central item of faith that they died for. That all men were created equal in the eyes of God.  They died high on lonely mountaintops, shrouded by storm clouds and obscured by the towering tiers of a primeval rain forest.

Click For EnlargementB-25C Mitchell 41-12485
I went to New Guinea in search of the wreck site of a plane in which my Great Uncle Major Bill Benn was killed [B-25C 41-12485]. An Australian had been led to the site by natives in 1957 but the crash location had been misstated. I hope to locate the site and analyze the wreckage stream in an effort to ascertain the reasons for the crash.

I succeeded in [re]locating the Benn B-25 in June of 1998. The crash had been caused by an engine failure. Severe thunderstorms were reported in the area on the date of Benn’s death and I surmised that he was trying to fly up a headwater valley in an attempt to sneak through an uncharted pass on one engine and then perform a one-engine power glide back to Port Moresby. He almost made it. Five hundred feet from the top of the divide, his B-25 crashed into the side of the mountain and his voice was stilled forever. While visiting the site, I recovered the partial remains and dog tags of his co-pilot and flight engineer.

Discovery of Two P-47 Thunderbolts
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While searching for the Benn crash site, I had the incredible good fortune to assist in locating and identifying four other WWII aircraft that still held the remains of 15 long lost airmen. They were men such as Wilfrid Desilets, a young [P-47D 42-8059] pilot from Worcester, Mass. We buried Wilfrid beside his parents beneath a headstone that has borne his name for almost 50 years. His mortal remains now reside there with his parents.

Men like George Gaffney whose daughter Pattie asked me to help her find her Father’s plane [P-47D 42-22896]. George was buried in Arlington in June, 1999 with full military honors. Gaffney’s story was treated briefly in Brokaw’s second book “The Greatest Generation Speaks” and was featured on a cable show called Beyond Chance.

Discovery of Liaison Plane
After locating the Gaffney site, natives from the village of Yaut led me to a wreck site [L-4A 43-29071]. The small L-5 was an observation plane for directing artillery fire and it held the remains of a Major Kindig. In an extraordinary twist to the story, Major Kindig’s son Mike recently married George Gaffney’s daughter Pattie. I also financed and led an expedition that located [B-25 41-30182] with the remains of nine men in the Finisterre Range. Several of those crewmen will be buried in Arlington in May of 2004.

Although I never knew any of these men, their life stories are forever intertwined with my own. The experience of discovering their remains and returning them to their families will always rank as one of the defining moments of my life. I have been asked occasionally why I care so passionately about a bunch of dead guys that died far away in a place most people never heard of. My work has not been morbid and it has not been about dead men. I have celebrated life. I have celebrated the lives of a wonderful generation of young men and women. My life has been enriched immeasurably by the experience. We are gathered here today in a celebration of life, a celebration of service in a cause larger than life and a celebration of the lives sacrificed for that cause. We gather together, not just for drinks and conversation, but to remember the beauty of youth, the excitement of living through dangerous times and to remember those comrades who have fallen victim to the ravages of war and time. We are here to remember a group of bright and courageous young men who left the comfort and security of their homes to fly as airmen in the greatest War that mankind has ever experienced. Many did not return from that war. A few returned after the passage of over 50 years as a result of my search for missing aircraft in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. It has been a great privilege for me to bring several of these men home for burial. As I brought them back to their hometowns, back to Arlington, I realized that their World has changed. Their hometowns have changed. Their families and their friends have grown old without them. But those young men have not changed and they never will. They died in the fullest flower of youth. They will never know age. They died for their country. Much has changed but not the central item of faith that they died for. That all men were created equal in the eyes of God. They died high on lonely mountaintops, shrouded by storm clouds and obscured by the towering tiers of a primeval rainforest.

In May 1999, I attended the burial of Wilfrid Desilets in Worcester Mass. I stood by his grave in a steady rain and I spoke to the crowd. Wilfrid’s six surviving sisters stood before me with tears in each of their eyes. I’ll never forget the way they looked on that day, grieving for their only brother who had died many years before. They were young women when Wilfrid departed but they were old women when he returned. Six older women, reacquainted with their need, remembering and grieving for Youth and Beauty and a Brother who remained more precious than time to them. As I spoke, they wept openly and I’ll not forget the way their tears ran together with the rain on their faces.

NOTE - A documentary B-25 Down: Hunt For A Hero aired on the History Channel in 2003.

Salvage Operations
After locating the Benn plane, I turned my attention to salvaging several other aircraft that I believed were worthy of restoration and preservation. Prospective projects ranged from two F4U Corsairs that I located in Lake Sebago Maine (that still held the remains of British pilots), a B-24 ["Lady Be Good" 41-24301] in Libya and a number of historic warplanes in Papua New Guinea.

Click For DetailsRecovery of P-47 Piloted by Missing In Action pilot Marion C. Lutes
[NOTE - In October 2004, Hagen funded the recovery of P-47D 42-22687 by Robert Greinert. We asked Hagen for his comments about the fact that the pilot of the aircraft is still listed as an MIA and that the US military had yet to visit the site for a recovery operation.]

Alfred Hagen stated in a email message on October 21, 2004:
"JPAC & the [U. S.] ambassador [to Papua New Guinea] were the victims of misinformation and bullshit in an attempt to sabotage our operation. They were told that the site was MIA (technically correct) and that the pilots remains could still be in or around the wreckage (grossly incorrect). The pilot opened an escape hatch in the canopy from inside and climber out. He ate his emergency rations 30 feet from the plane [No photographic evidence of these relics have been submitted to Pacific Wrecks or any other website or source.] he vanished into the jungle, never to be seen again. He was probably injured. The instrument panel is completely intact and frozen in time. He hit a tree on approach at 105mph, sheared off the tail and pancaked to earth. He couldn't open his canopy because it was jambed by the left wing which broke off and flipped over the fuselage. [After the salvage] Robert Greinert has met with JPAC and they are fine with what we did. They frankly admit that they were victims of BS. An earlier CILHI team inspected the site. The American Ambassador was also misinformed. He was straightened out by Australians who knew better. The rest of the US government couldn't give two fucks."

In another email, Alfred Hagen stated in a email message on October 25, 2004:
"Kindly allow to clarify that I went to PNG to assist my associate Rob Greinert recover the P-38 and the P-47. They are his projects, not mine. I am happy to assist him in any way possible because his help in resolving the Swamp Ghost salvage has been indispensable. I did help fund the project and I am working with Rob but the plane is his project, not mine. That is why it went to Sydney and not to the USA."

Salvaging 'Swamp Ghost'
The most important of these planes [B-17E 41-2446] in the Agaimbo Swamp on the north coast of New Guinea that has come to be known as the “Swamp Ghost”. I purchased the salvage rights [from MARC / David Tallichet] to the Swamp Ghost several years ago but experienced a number of delays in the salvage operation.

It is critical to restore this B-17 because the ravages of both man and corrosion are steadily eroding and destroying the plane. Most warplane relics in New Guinea have been destroyed by locals that scrap the metal for a few kina but the Swamp Ghost is so inaccessible that it has so far escaped this fate. It has been repeatedly vandalized by visitors, most of whom have been westerners seeking trophies.

They have been mutilating and stripping the planes for the last three decades. It is ludicrous to argue that the plane be left in the swamp because it is too remote to constitute a tourist destination and it is being steadily destroyed by the ravages of both time and man.

Many people have been critical of my attempt to salvage this important historical relic, claiming that it should be left in the swamp. I have no sympathy for this view and I can only say that the men who flew it on its last mission should have the final say. After the passage of over 60 years, their mission will finally be over.

The B-17 crashed on February 23rd, 1942 after flying to Rabaul in the first long range American bombing mission of the Second World War. The Swamp Ghost was attacked over Rabaul by 12 Japanese aircraft and shot down several before escaping into a tropical storm. Having sustained considerable damage and low on fuel, Eaton decided to belly the plane into a field on the north coast of New Guinea.

The field turned out to be a horrid swamp filled with malarial mosquitoes, huge spiders, water snakes and crocodiles. Elephant grass soared 20 feet above the water, blocking the skyline and making navigation extremely difficult.

At the limits of human endurance, the crewmen finally stumbled into a native village where they were fed and cared for. They were eventually taken to an Australian coast watcher named Allan Champion [ there were no coastwatchers in New Guinea, actually he was Resident Magistrate ]. By this time, the entire crew had come down with acute malaria and the men could barely walk. After several weeks, a sailing schooner picked up the crew and delivered them to Port Moresby where the men shortly returned to flying and fighting the war.

The salvage will be accomplished by removing the four engines and both wings in the swamp. The fuselage will be lifted out of the water with large airbags and the structure pressure washed and rigged. A CH-47 hevi-lift helicopter will lift the airframe from the swamp and fly it to the nearest port. The plane will be dismantled and loaded into sea containers for the long voyage back to the United States. It should be an extraordinary adventure and the airlift will render magnificent visual images from one of the most picturesque, primitive and remote places on earth.

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[NOTE: In late April / early May 2006 Alfred Hagen / Aero Archeology controversially salvaged B-17E 41-2446 (aka "Swamp Ghost). The wreck became highly controversial and its export was halted at Lae. The PAC Report on the Swamp Ghost by the PNG Government concluded Hagen and his company had broken the law. During June 2006, Mr. Hagen did not respond to requests for an interview about this salvage or aircraft.

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Last Updated
May 3, 2016

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  Pacific Wrecks Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to bringing home those Missing In Action (MIA) and leveraging new technologies in the study of World War II Pacific and the Korean War.  
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