Page last updated at 12:17 GMT, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Aviation archaeologists' Londonderry Spitfire search

Spitfire
The archaeologists hope to recover the Spitfire

Two aviation archaeologists are to come to Northern Ireland to search for a lost WWII Spitfire.

Gareth Jones and Steve Vizard have been keen to unravel the mystery of the missing aircraft.

They believe it's buried underground on the site of City of Derry Airport, the former RAF Eglinton air base.

In 1941 the air base was established to defend Londonderry from German attack.

On 18 May, 1942, two fighter planes went up to practise dog-fights but one crashed and buried itself in the soft ground.

The 21-year-old pilot, Bill Creed, part of a Welsh unit, parachuted to safety but the missing aircraft has never been found.

Mr Jones, came to Derry two years ago and appealed to the people of the city to help locate the missing aircraft.

Dog-fighting

"The actual crashed happened about 68 years ago so witnesses are getting a bit slim on the ground," he said.

"But with the release of the government documents (about the crash) we now know exactly what happened.

"Bill Creed took off from Eglinton airfield, as it was at the time, and took off to practice dog-fighting attacks with his other colleagues and during one of these attacks there was a failure with the aircraft.

"A piece of metal was sticking out of the aileron and when he took it up to 6,000 feet he became unable to control so he bailed out of his Spitfire.

"The reports said it came down almost vertically and buried itself on the very soft marshy ground.

"In the course of the RAF inquiry they were unable to uncovered the wreckage due to the boggy nature of the ground so the mystery remains unsolved some 68 years later."

Optimistic

Messrs Vizard and Jones believe the aircraft is still in the ground at the airport site and are to come to the city to start searching in the next few weeks.

"The people at City of Derry Airport, especially John Devine and the staff, have been very helpful," Mr Jones said.

"We've managed to pinpoint some aerial photographs that were taken about 10 weeks after the crash and we think that we can see the mark where the aircraft went down.

"So we've done some overlay pictures and it's within about 30 metres of the new extension that they've put on recently.

Mr Vizard runs a company which builds replacement parts for old aircraft, especially "warbirds" and has been digging up Spitfires since the 1970s.

Mr Jones said the pair remain optimistic about finding the Spitfire.

"They do tend do break up a little bit, but it really depends on the ground conditions, and out there it is very, very soft and we would almost expect it to come out in a big ball really," he said.

"It should be almost like a sealed time capsule.

"Quite often when the pilots used to bail out they would leave their flying hats in the top of the cockpit.

"And if we could find that it would be quite a nice souvenir for the family to have."



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