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Last Updated: Friday, 16 November 2007, 18:30 GMT
Extra security over fighter plane
Lockheed-P38 Lightning submerged off Harlech, Gwynedd
The Lockheed-P38 Lightning crashed during a target exercise
Marine conservationists say they are considering hiring security teams to protect the wreckage of a rare American fighter plane found on a Gwynedd beach.

The Lockheed-P38 Lightning surfaced this autumn, 60 years after ditching on the coast during World War II.

It is the last remaining example of the aircraft in Europe.

Gwynedd's maritime officer, Barry Davies, said there were concerns for the wreck's safety after intense interest from across the world.

A restoration team in the United States has dubbed the plane "The Maid of Harlech" and hope to retrieve it.

Members of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (Tighar) visited the site in October to carry out a full survey.

They say the plane is arguably the oldest surviving aircraft of this type, and the only P-38 Lightning in its original condition.

Lt Robert Elliot
Lt Robert Elliot died in North Africa a few months after the crash

Tighar has also trawled through WWII records to discover exactly how the aircraft came to be on a Gwynedd and beach.

The plane was taking part in secret exercises when its engines cut out.

Amazingly, the pilot, Second Lieutenant Robert Elliot, walked away from the crash uninjured.

His nephew, Robert Elliott from Tennessee, recently uncovered details of the crash after researching his uncle's war diaries.

"They were doing aerial gunner exercises and my uncle was towing a target," said Mr Elliot.

"He had been airborne for around 55 minutes when his left engine quit. He decided to pass back over the fields, drop his target and come into land.

"But as he turned the right engine went."

Mr Elliot said a design fault on the plane meant that reserve fuel lines to the engines failed, but remarkably his uncle walked away from the crash unscathed.

Unfortunately, the pilot was reported missing in action just three months later just weeks into the American's Tunisia campaign in North Africa.

American conservationists Tighar now hope the plane can be preserved and retrieved from its current location on a beach near Harlech.

They have been working with Gwynedd County Council and visited the site for four days, and launched a campaign for funds in America.

TIGHAR survey team members
Tighar members spent four days surveying the plane wreck

"We are strengthening surveillance in the area in order to ensure it is protected," said Barry Davies.

"It would be so sad if souvenir hunters started chipping away at it."

Mr Davies says his teams are also looking into providing professional security to protect the site.

But he also warned that the wreck area is potentially dangerous for any sightseers, with much of the plane remaining submerged even at low tide.

"The sand on the beach there is so soft and the tide comes in very quickly," he stressed.

"There also remains a risk from high octane fuel that remains on board the aircraft.

He urged anyone who sees anything suspicious at the wreck site to report it.

A special number has been set up for the public to call on: 01758 704066

US fighter plane found on beach
03 Nov 07 |  North West Wales

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