In rural Papua New Guinea, there was a mysterious object which is called the swamp ghost by the locals. It had sat at the bottom of a swamp for decades and the locals regarded it as a holy relic. After it became known to the world, many people were curious about its true colors, and these two men decided to see it in person. But neither of them expected what would happen during their trip, which reveals the tale of the swamp ghost.
1. An Unusual Sight
On an average day in 1972, the Royal Australian Air Force was doing a routine flight across a remote part of Papua New Guinea, part of the Australian Commonwealth at the time. Everything seemed normal at first, but little did the soldiers know what happened later would change everything.
The helicopter was deep within the forested areas of Papua New Guinea, so all the soldiers could see for miles was a solid green brush. Suddenly, they encountered something white and oddly shaped. They didn’t know exactly what they were looking at.
2. Something Strange in the Swamps
They flew in closer to the shape that was laying so unceremoniously among all the trees and green nature, and tried to figure out what exactly they were looking at. They found themselves above a swamp. The odd object they were seeing was halfway submerged under the water.
The identification of the mysterious object found in the swamp difficult to verify considering the swamps of Papua New Guinea are lousy with dangerous animals, including alligators. During WWII the country was a major place of conflict for the South West Pacific theater. A treasure trove of items was hidden deep in difficult to get to terrain after the war, all just waiting to be discovered.
3. War Tourism
The island became a tourist sight after the war for a very specific reason, one that you can’t find in many places around the world. It attracted visitors not for its sandy beaches or rich culture, but for the wreckage of the war.
Ten years ago, a mere 100 visitors would come to the island each year, but now thousands of war buffs arrive at the country on a yearly basis, all to explore the war wreckage that litters the islands. The tourists were keen on the Japanese, Australian, and American military bases. It is safe to say Papua New Guinea has become a hunting ground for people in search of war remnants. However, when the Royal Australian Air Force spotted something hidden in the swamp back in 1972, they did not expect two men were about to get themselves into one heck of an adventure a decade later.
Two particular men decided that they couldn't sit idly by while they knew that something large and mysterious was out in the swamp. Their names were Fred Hagen and David Tallichet. Both of them were familiar with old war relics and experienced in restoring them back to new condition.
Fred, an archeologist by trade, was very interested in rare and old remnants from wars. The two together made up their minds to set out into the treacherous swamp to find out just what was hiding out there. So, they collected essential equipment and gathered a team of locals to help them get there and start exploring.
5. A Daring Mission
After thorough preparation, the team headed out into the wilderness of Papua New Guinea, not knowing what they might find stuck in the swampy marshes. But they knew that whatever it was, it had been there for several decades. The object found in the swamp several years earlier was taunting them.
Together they were going to march into the unknown with nothing but a few tools and their combined brainpower to protect themselves. So, David and Fred ventured into the swamplands along with the locals they were able to hire to help with the navigation and labor once they arrived at the site. But little did they know what they had to deal with.
6. A Surprising Discovery
The mysterious item that was discovered by the Australians decades ago lied waiting deep within the swamps of Papua New Guinea. The swamp is partially submerged in the water, making it hardly possible to reach. The crocodile-infested swamp is known to the locals as Agaimbo and no one dare enter the swamp willingly.
In fact, the inaccessibility of the location and that the item being partially submerged in water were the only factors that contributed to the preservation of the item that had been so long forgotten about. But Hagen and Tellichet weren’t about to let the item remain unexplored any longer.
7. The Big Reveal
Upon further investigation, it became clear that the object that was hidden in the swamp was actually a very large plane. Due to the plane’s location it became locally known as the “swamp ghost,” a possibly haunted plane that lurked in the shallow waters of the swamp.
Thanks to media coverage of the plane, many people began to travel just to see the plane in its full glory. But where had it come from and how long had it been there? These were just a few questions that Hagen and Tellichet were asking themselves as they embarked on their journey to find out more details about the mysterious plane.
8. A Conflict Zone
Not long after inspecting the plane, it was discovered that it was actually a bomber plane from the WWII era, which wasn’t surprising considering Papua New Guinea was a major conflict zone between allied forces and the Japanese Empire during the war.
During the years that the bomber plane was sitting in the swamp, it became known as the holy grail of military aviation, due to it being well-preserved and inaccessible. The plane had even come to be regarded as some type of romantic object that sat as a memorial to all the people who lost their lives during the war.
9. Impossible to Salvage
Due to the plane’s location in the swamp, it had long been considered impossible to move, as it was already almost impossible to get to. Not only was it situated in such an inaccessible area, the plane was also deemed impossible to salvage. Hagen even acknowledged that saying, “it was widely considered that it was impossible to salvage.”
But none of that could stop the two men from trying their best to salvage the plane and return it to pristine condition. And between the two of them, they were very experienced with restoring planes. An immense amount, in fact.
10. David Tallichet
One of the men behind the salvaging the plane was a man named David Tallichet. Tallichet, a World War II veteran, has lots of experience with planes and other aircraft. He owns a business of collecting and restoring military aircraft and is very passionate about his work.
During one point in his life, he owned over 120 planes, which included amazing aircraft such as a B-25 Mitchell bomber and a P-40 Tomahawk. He was excited to add another plane to his list of salvaged military aircraft. But he needed to know what type of plane was stuck in the swamp first.
11. Not Being Deterred
After further inspection of the aircraft, it was quickly discovered that the type of plane stuck in the swamp of Papua New Guinea was one of the exact same type of planes that Taliichet himself had piloted during the Second World War. The type of plane was a B-17E Flying Fortress.
With that in mind, both Hagen and Tallichet made a plan about attempting to salvage the plane known as the “Swamp Ghost.” They started their endeavor in the 1980s, but it would take them several decades to complete the extremely difficult task. Even though it was considered impossible to salvage the plane, the two kept at it and weren’t going to be deterred by anything.
12. The Greatest Dream
According to Hagen, the restoration of the plane was their biggest dream. “Because for some reason it captured the imagination of people from around the world…” he told South California Public Radio. The B-17E has a nickname - the Flying Fortress.
According to local legend, the plane got the nickname after a Seattle Times journalist saw the plane during a test flight back in 1935 and remarked that it looked like a flying fortress. Even more amazing than the discovery and the restoration of the plane is its backstory and just how exactly the plane came to be located half-submerged in the far-off swamp.
13. The Japanese Attack
Just one day before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Swamp Ghost was sent out to perform a special mission. Rather than flying with the Kangaroo Squadron that day, it was sent out on one of the earliest bombing missions of the Second World War instead.
Then, just a few months later, disaster struck. The Japanese invaded the township of Rabaul, which was on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. The invasion was considered a threat to all allied troops stationed in the country and something had to be done to ensure their safety. But it would be a disaster for the Swamp Ghost.
14. The Downfall
On February of 1942, the Swamp Ghost was sent out to attack Japanese ships in Rabaul Harbor on New Britain Island. But they did not know that the majestic Swamp Ghost would tragically never return from its mission. Nothing quite went as imagined on that day for the flying fortress.
The plane started experiencing problems and the bomb bay doors wouldn’t open. They had to make a second pass at their target before the doors were finally open. But by that time the plane had already drawn in anti-aircraft fire from the Japanese troops, which would bring about the downfall of the Swamp Ghost.
15. Technical Malfunction
A dogfight ensued after the Swamp Ghost made its second pass on its target, which fortunately was successful as they were finally able to get the bomb bay open, giving the enemy less time to counter-attack. The Swamp Ghost managed to take down a total of three enemy fighters out of a dozen.
Then, suddenly, the worst happened. The Swamp Ghost got hit by enemy anti-aircraft flak. The plane didn’t explode, thankfully, but one of its wings was severely damaged. The plane began to leak fuel and headed for a crash landing in the New Guinean wilderness, unable to reach its destination.
16. A Crash Landing
The Swamp Ghost was supposed to return to the New Guinean capital city of Port Moresby, but there was no way that the crew could get there with a punctured wing and the massive leaking of fuel. But the pilot spotted a perfect place to make a crash landing.
Coming up on the Own Stanley Mountains, the pilot spotted a soft wheat field which he thought would be a perfect place to make a crash landing. But sadly, not everything was what it appeared to be. What the pilot had first thought was a large wheat field ended up being something far more dangerous.
17. Middle of Nowhere
What the pilot initially thought was a wheat field ended up being a swamp. A swamp that was the inhabitation of deadly and ferocious crocodiles. The Swamp Ghost made its crash landing in the swamp with a soft landing. Miraculously none of the crew members were seriously hurt.
As good as that may have been for them, the plane’s crew was now stranded in the middle of a dangerous swamp in the middle of nowhere. Not knowing where they were or where they were going, they set off to find local people and help to get back to their base located in the capital.
18. A Brief Reunion
The entire crew was devastatingly all infected with malaria while attempting to traverse the dangerous swamps. Fortunately, they encountered a native that assisted them and took them back to his village. The kind local treated the crew and nurse them back to health. From there it was time for them to get reunited with US forces.
The crew of the flying fortress eventually reunited with the US forces in the New Guinean capital of Port Moresby. Soldiers welcomed the crew back as heroes but their celebration didn’t last long. They were almost immediately sent out to perform a new mission.
19. Lost in Time
While the crew of the Swamp Ghost was redeployed on another mission, their Flying Fortress was all but forgotten, about half submerged in the distant swamp. As time passed by and the war ended, no one thought twice about the Flying Fortress, and it was time to go home.
For decades the plane was known only to a few locals nearby. US forces completely forgot about the plane and made no efforts to recover the plane from the wreck site. Then, in 1972 the plane was rediscovered by the Australian army flying over the swamp. The news hit international media and the Swamp Ghost became known to the public.
20. The Most Famous
When Hagen and Tellichet eventually approached the Swamp Ghost, they found that the aircraft was remarkably well preserved. Mostly thanks for being partially submerged in water and the difficulty to get to location. But that didn’t prevent locals from ransacking the inside of the plane.
All of the mechanics and weaponry inside of the aircraft had already been looted by the time Hagen and Tellichet reached the plane. But still, the Flying Fortress is one of only four other planes of its type and of all the wrecks that took place over Papua New Guinea, the Swamp Ghost is the most famous of them all.
21. Battle Scars
The Swamp Ghost sat abandoned and long forgotten about for as long as 64 years. It was located in the Agaiambo Swamp, about eight miles inland from the northern Papua New Guinean coast. But what Hagen and Tellichet didn’t know was just how much the plane meant historically. The Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii explains it best.
The Flying Fortress is “arguably the world’s only intact and unretired World War II-era B-17E bomber, a one-of-a-kind example of a plane that played an indispensable role in winning WWII. And it is the only B-17 in the world that still bears its battle scars,” the institute stated. But this wasn’t all.
22. A World War II Favorite
Boeing began producing the B-17 heavy bomber back in the 1930s. Since its introduction in 1938, the B-17 remains the third-most massively produced bomber of all time. It was used widely during the Second World War, mostly in Europe against German forces. At least 12,731 aircraft were produced.
During the war in the Pacific, the B-17 bomber was used in raids against Japanese shipping and airfields. The aircraft were stationed in Hawaii, Panama and Alaska. The bomber was a strategic resource in the war and dropped 640,000 tons of bombs (out of 1.5 million total) on Nazi Germany. But for Hagen and Tellichet, what did any of this mean?
23. A Vision of Modernization
The B-17 bomber was part of President Roosevelt’s vision to modernize the US military. The B-17 was a new generation of bomber that could carry a much more sizable payload and serve remote bases around the globe. But Boeing was not satisfied with the B-17; they continued to improve the engineering of the aircraft.
After the war, the B-17 bomber was quickly phased out of use by the US Air Force. Most of the aircrafts were returned to the United States where they were sold for scrap and melted down. Only a few bombers remained in use, mainly for minor roles such as transport, air-sea rescue and photo-reconnaissance.
24. Holy Relics
Hagen and Tellichet finally completed the salvaging operation in 2006, but only four years later would they receive permission to return the aircraft to American soil. Another problem that they had during their operation was convincing the locals to let them remove the B-17 bomber.
To the locals, the bomber was a relic sitting on holy land. They had to persuade the villagers to hand over the Swamp Ghost. The locals even had a ceremony to appease the spirits in the swamp. But not everyone was supportive of the chief’s decision to let Hagen and Tellichet remove the relic.
25. Son of a Local Chief
One man, the son of a local chief, set out to make sure that the B-17 bomber wasn’t removed. The man even organized a group of people to help him intercept the plane before it could be moved to a barge offshore.
The efforts, however, were in vain. The plane was lifted by a Russian-made military helicopter and moved by air to the barge that was awaiting them offshore, which left the chief’s son unable to stop the bomber's removal, and he could only stand by and watch as it was lifted away.
26. Pearl Harbor
The very first public showing of the B-17 Flying Fortress after it had been removed from the swamp in Papua New Guinea was a viewing in Long Beach California. Surprisingly, many of the people in attendance were friends and family of the bomber's original crew.
Everyone in attendance was thrilled to see that the long-lost plane had finally been returned to the United States. The bomber is a memorial for a horrific war that claimed millions of lives. Starting in 2013, the B-17 Flying Fortress has been on exhibation at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor.
27. A Full Restoration
Now that the plane has been returned to the US and is safely stored in a museum in Hawaii, the owners of the B-17 bomber plan to fully restore the plane back to its former glory. A task that is no easy undertaking. The cost of restoring the plane is going to be very high.
In total, the cost to restore the World War II B-17 bomber might be over $5 million. That, however, is just a modest price for restoring a relic of this kind. After the B-17 is fully restored it is due to be removed to the Hangar 79 on Ford Island.
28. Cargo Cults
Still today, many of the locals in the rural Papua New Guinea area are not happy that the plane was removed. The plane attracted tourists from far off places and some local cultures even formed spiritual beliefs about the plane. Such a concept is generally considered as a form of “cargo cult.”
A cargo cult refers to a system of beliefs, generally formed in highly underdeveloped societies, in which its members hold superstitious beliefs about items that fall from the sky from more advanced civilizations, such as technology or cargo. Still, to this day, there are lots of cargo cults in Papua New Guinea.
29. War Wreckage
Papua New Guinea was a significant strategic territory in the South West Pacific theater during the Second World War. Over 600 US planes crashed over the country, not including other allied or enemy forces which all together would equal thousands of planes. But most of the wrecks were unnoticed by the local populations.
Due to the terrain in Papua New Guinea, many of the sites are located in hardly-possible to reach areas. The country, while very beautiful, is full of dangerous and impassible obstacles such as tropical rainforests, rugged mountain chains, savannas and swamps. Such terrain also has a negative influence on the country’s population.
30. A Nation Divided
One of the challenges of finding anything in the area is the physical obstacles of the area. The topography of the country negatively affects its population because it renders a singular national identity almost impossible to achieve due to the separation between the populations living in the country. Currently, there are about six million people living in Papua New Guinea, most of which live in remote and secluded areas.
Since the majority of the population lives in remote and isolated areas, there is very little unity among the people. Most people are loyal to their local clans and live a simplistic lifestyle of hunting wildlife and growing crops such as pawpaw, yams and other foods native to the area.
31. Caught in the Middle
The people of Papua New Guinea had led mainly isolated lives before foreigners arrived to the island. But when WWII came around, they found themselves in the middle of the conflict because of their strategic location between the Japanese Empire and allied Australia. The Papuans didn’t fight in the war for the most part, but they did help.
The Papuans contributed in the war effort by acting as service bearers — mainly carrying supplies and the wounded across the rugged mountainous terrain and steaming treacherous jungles. The country quickly became a graveyard and a memorial for the war. So much so, that it started attracting tourists.