Recently seen coming down out of the sky, slung beneath a helicopter, was
long lost Republic P-47D Thunderbolt 42-22687. This aircraft crashed on 29th
April 1944 when Lt Marion Lutes took it on a local flight for gun testing purposes.
Launching from the base at Nadzab, the aircraft was not seen for another 35
years when it was discovered at 8,200 ft on a mountainside near Gusap, PNG.
The impact of the aircraft appears to have been progressively absorbed as it
struck trees and shed structure, resulting in the cockpit surviving completely
undamaged. When found in 1979, there were no signs of the pilot or his parachute,
suggesting he attempted to make his way on foot. Sadly, he was never seen again
and thus his fate remains a mystery.
Having been discovered a quarter of a century ago, the P-47 had become relatively
well known however its inaccessability meant that it remained mostly unmolested
by souvenir hunters. It was very sad then to learn some five years ago that
the aircraft had been consumed in a landslide and was lost for all time (Classic Wings Vol 6, no. 2). This story had been told to Robert Greinert who is behind the
restoration of two other Thunderbolts in Sydney. He decided to investigate
the site recently in the hope that something may remain that may assist with
the work presently underway in Australia. Imagine his surprise then when he
and colleague Peter Salmon arrived at the site to find the aircraft still sitting
just as it was when discovered 25 years ago! Permission was granted from the
PNG National Museum to recover the wreck and ship it back to Sydney and this
was recently achieved as indicated in the accompanying photographs. While the
wings, aft fuselage and tail suffered in the crash of 42-22687, the forward
fuselage and engine area remained in fair condition complete with all plumbing,
wiring, instruments, placards etc to accurately illustrate the exact configuration
of the internal fuselage when it left the factory in 1942. This Thunderbolt
was the usual mount of pilot Flt. Lt. J.W. Harris whose tally of four Japanese
aircraft destroyed up to that time can be seen on the fuselage sides. The 'Jug'
will eventually be restored, however, in the meantime it will serve as a guide
to assist in the accurate restoration of two of its bretheren in Australia.
With some 67 known P-47 survivors, the return of another early example previously
lost to history is a welcome bonus for aviation heritage.