The Mystery Of The WWII Swamp Ghost - worldtravelling

The Mystery Of The WWII Swamp Ghost


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Spotted from the height of a helicopter, a mysterious object was seen amongst the dense forest of Papua New Guinea. The mysterious sighting would lead two courageous men to make an unexpected discovery of historic proportions…

Hidden in the Deep


In the depths of a swamp in Papua New Guinea, something lay hidden. Locals did not know what to make of the strange sighting, but over years, urban legend began to tell the story of the mysterious ‘Swamp Ghost.’

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Swamp Ghost


News spread of the ‘Swamp Ghost,’ intrigue grew and soon locals began to revere the strange sighting. After hearing about the swamp depths, two curious decided to seek out the location and discover what lay hidden. Undeterred by the local rumors of danger, the two men set out on an adventure.

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Routine flight


But our story starts long before David Tallichet and Fred Hagen set out to seek out the Swamp Ghost. It begins in 1972. The Royal Australian Air Force set out on a routine flight over a secluded region of Papua New Guinea. Back then, the southwestern Pacific and its offshore islands were still part of the Australian Commonwealth. It was a routine flight but one unexpected moment would change the course of everything.

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Strange sighting


As the pilots and crew peered down from the towering height of the helicopter, they saw something amidst the density of the surrounding trees. But what would they come across in such a remote area as this? And then, in a mere instant, they could saw it, an unusual white object in a small clearing among the green.

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What could it be?


The team were eager to discover more about the object. They hovered lower and lower towards the tops of the trees. These dense forests were known to be home to dangerous and exotic creatures, but curiosity urged the crew closer to the mysterious sighting.

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Swamp land


The area was densely forested swampland. The large unknown object was partially submerged by murky swamp water. Though they wanted to uncover the hidden depths of the sighting, the men knew that to wad into the alligator-infested waters would mean certain death.

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WWII


Unable to look any closer, the team soon decided the mystery was better left unsolved yet the men could not shake the image from their minds. They knew that the only time this area had seen any noticeable human activity was during World War II, during the violent conflict over possession of the South West Pacific theater.

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War leftovers


The Second World War saw the Papua New Guinea area of the South West Pacific theater as pivotal territory. Thousands of warplanes had once flown over the land while battling enemy fire. Around 600 US planes alone crashed over the country into the earthen swamps and dense forest. Thousands more aircrafts, from other allied or enemy forces, had once attempted to fly over the region, some were fortunate to survive the mission, others were not.

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Unsafe


The high number of wrecks in the region left locals disinterested in the crash sites while many of the wreckages lay unseen in the depths of the dense and harsh terrain. In order to reach some of the sites, one would have to scale mountaintops, swim through rapid ravines and wade through the dark dangers of swampland. In such an inhospitable landscape, how could one get close enough to discover more about what the Australian troops had seen?

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A divided country


Papua New Guinea remains one of the only countries that has not been overrun by the tourist industry and widespread globalisation. It is one of the most ecologically and culturally diverse areas on the planet. Over 820 indigenous languages are spoken amongst the country’s population of 8 million people. To this day, some areas of the Pacific remain remote, mysterious and untouched by western modernity.

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Foreigners on the island


During the early years of the 19th Century, Europeans knew little of the country but the Second World War would change the course of history. Papua New Guinea became caught in the vicious crossfire between allied Australia and the imposing Japanese Empire. The locals’ isolated, traditional lives were soon disturbed by troops, bullets and violence.

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War help


The indigenous Papuans steered clear of bearing arms in the conflict but offered their help where they could. The local men acted as service bearers, they would help to carry supplies to troops while transporting wounded soldiers across the harsh terrain. To the devastation of the local people, due to the mass of casualties during the war, the area soon became a memorial site, thus attracting global attention and an influx of curious tourists.

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Tourism boost


For the first time in the country’s history, people began visiting the island from far-flung destinations. But the reason behind the increase in tourism was more sinister than it first appeared. The tourists did not arrive to experience the country’s rich natural treasures and cultural joys, they were their to see first-hand the damage and devastation the war had left behind in its wake.

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Time for an adventure


To this day, thousands travel to the island to witness its historic and violent role in the war. There are American, Australian and Japanese bases that still stand as remnants of the conflict. In 1972, that was exactly what the helicopter team had stumbled upon. An unrecognized and undiscovered piece of wreckage from the war that would, a decade later, encourage two adventurous men to seek out the mysterious wreck.

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The mission


While most people would flee when faced with the dangerous terrain of Papua New Guinea, David Tallichet and Fred Hagen were only spurred on by the challenges of the potentially dangerous endeavor. The two men were determined to uncover the piece of history, to discover what they could about the wreck before the swamp waters would swallow it into its depths.

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Who were they?


Tallichet and Hagen soon set out on the mission that would see them travel into an unknown area with nothing more than their brain power, a few needed tools and the help of some locals who would act as their guides and assist them in navigating through the swamps.

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War plane


The journey was going to difficult and arduous for the two older men. The swamp was known locally as ‘Agaimbo.’ Due to local legend and the harsh journey ahead, there were few who were willing to enter the swampland. After months of searching, the men eventually found a local guide that would lead them to the mysterious spot.

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The Discovery


The journey turned out to be more harrowing than the men expected. The climate was harsh and the terrain was physically demanding. There were moments the men considered turning back, but their curiosity and determination urged them onward. Eventually, the pair laid eyes on the wreck they had been searching for, the large warplane had finally been discovered.

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Interesting find


The Swamp Ghost had rightfully become the stuff of local legend. Many believed the plane was haunted by the tormented spirits of those who had perished in the war all those years ago. Upon closer inspection, the pair and their guide found that it was a bomber plane from WWII.

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What Now?


After laying eyes on this sacred historic remnant, the men knew that they couldn’t simply turn away. The pair were amazed at its preserved condition. Further inspection would lead them to make another interesting find…

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Impossible to salvage


The plane was exceptionally well preserved due to its surroundings and the inaccessibility of the site of the crash. When they set out on the journey, the pair had always hoped it would be in such a condition that they could move it and possibly relocate the piece of history to a more appropriate site, but the wreck had been dubbed as “impossible to move”. Hagen himself said, “It was widely considered that it was impossible to salvage.”

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Restoration project


The pair decided they would restore the plane to its original, pristine condition. Tallichet was a World War II Veteran who had been restoring old planes for many years and was more than qualified for the demanding job.

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David Tallichet


Tallichet had advanced knowledge in restoring planes and other aircrafts. He has his own business in working on old military aircraft, collecting and restoring them. At one point, he owned over 120 planes, including an outstanding P-40 Tomahawk and a B-25 Mitchell bomber. Despite his many years of experience, he had never worked on anything quite like the Swamp Ghost.

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His old plane


In a wonderful bout of fateful coincidence, the plane found in the swamp was exactly the same model of plane that Tallichet had himself flew during his years serving in the war. The plane was a B-17E. The pair started their mission in the 1980’s but it would be decades before the mammoth task would be completed.

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Flying Fortress


The restoration of the Swamp Ghost was an enormous task indeed. But the tremendous mission proved to be a dream project for Tallichat and Hagen. Soon, news spread of the pair’s endeavor. News channels from all over the world began to cover the project.

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World wide intrigue


Veterans and journalists became intrigued as to how the plane landed where it did and what its precise journey in the war was. The plane had been given the nickname ‘Flying Fortress’ by a Seattle Times journalist.

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Attack on the Japanese


After the Japanese had invaded a New Britain area called Rabaul, the Swamp Ghost was set off on a mission to attack Japanese ships in the Rabaul Harbor, on February 1942. It was documented that something terrible had happened after some technical issues had occurred with the plane. But what exactly had happened?

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Crash landing


After a few technical issues with the bomb bay doors not being able to open, the plane was finally able to attack three enemy fighters that were firing at them. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until the bomber plane was hit by an enemy anti-aircraft flak.

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Heroes


The pilot had planned to land on a soft wheat field, but it was when they got closer, they realized the ground beneath them was actually a swamp. The plane managed to make a steady landing and miraculously there were no serious injuries. After wading through the dreaded surrounds, the crew caught potentially-fatal malaria. But with another stroke of fortunate luck, the crew were helped by a local man who nursed them back to health in his village. Soon after, they were reunited with the US forces as heroes.

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64 years


It was there that the Flying Fortress was forgotten about for 64 long years. The plane was one of only four other planes of its kind and is explained by The Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii as “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.”

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