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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
Glacier reveals 60-year secrets
Expedition
The glacier is slowly revealing the wreckage
By BBC New Online's Catherine Miller

An Icelandic glacier has begun melting away to reveal the wreckage of a British war plane which crashed into it 60 years ago.


When the sun is highest here in Iceland, at that time by putting black herring net over the site it speeds up the melting of the snow

Hordur Geirsson
Local historian Hordur Geirsson has been harnessing the powers of global warming to bring the Royal Air Force Fairey Battle bomber plane to the surface.

In the most recent expedition which ended on Tuesday, he and a team of researchers found human remains, as well as one part of the landing gear, a steering pin and parts of the wheels.


They also found a third machine-gun, which presents something of a mystery as the bomber was supposed only to have two guns aboard.

The items found are displayed at the museum in Akureyri.

Four servicemen died in the crash: a New Zealand born Flight Officer Arthur Round and three British airmen, Flight Sergeant Keith Garrett, Flight Sergeant Reginald Hopkins and Pilot Officer Henry Talbot.

Speeding up nature

"Since 1995 the glacier has been getting smaller because of the warmer weather," Mr Geirsson told BBC News Online.

But to help nature on its way his team has placed netting over the crash site to concentrate the rays of the sun.


The nets help to speed up the melting of the glacier
"It works unbelievably well. When the sun is highest here in Iceland, at that time by putting black herring net over the site it speeds up the melting of the snow," he said.

The nets not only melt through the layer of snow which gathers every winter on the glacier, but actually penetrate into the thick glacial ice which has built up over 100 or 200 years.

Water streams in creeks down the side of the glacier, as the wreckage emerges from the ice.

Twenty-year hunt

Mr Geirsson began his hunt 20 years ago, walking through the high mountains in search of the plane, which crashed in May 1941 shortly after take-off from Akureyri airport in northern Iceland.


The site was covered with very deep winter snow at the time of the crash and the plane disappeared completely

Hordur Geirsson
But in 1999, a friend found a report from a wartime search party at the Public Records Office in London, giving the precise site of the crash.

"We walked straight to the location," he said.

At the time of the crash the hostile environment made it difficult for British forces to recover the plane.

"The site was covered with very deep winter snow at the time of the crash and the plane disappeared completely," Mr Geirsson said.

"Wartime clothing made it impossible for [the British forces]," he said.

A search party did reach the site in June 1941 and, declaring it a war grave, erected a cross there.

Fairey Battle bomber
The plane crashed shortly after take-off
But it was not until 2000 that relatives of the airmen, including four from New Zealand, could travel to the site for a memorial service.

Mr Geirsson plans to carry on with his recovery of the wreck - with continued warming he envisages another 10 years of summer expeditions.

The priority, he says, is to recover all the human remains but he also expects to start to find the wings, part of the cockpit and the plane's motor in the coming trips.

He will be back at the site in September for a last look before it disappears under the winter snow once more.

See also:

30 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iceland
18 Nov 00 | Scotland
Family's tears for Spitfire pilot
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