"It's a ghost, and its spirit seems only to have grown."
October 7, 2007 9:40 PM   Subscribe

Swamp Ghosts. Of all the wrecks on Papua New Guinea (PNG), none is as fabled as the "Swamp Ghost," a B-17E Flying Fortress that ran out of fuel on an ill-fated bombing mission in early 1942 and was ditched in the Agaiambo Swamp about eight miles inland on the northern coast. There the plane rested, intact and more or less unmolested, in soggy splendor for 64 years—that is, until May 2006, when an American salvager took it apart and removed it. This caused such a controversy that the plane was stopped from leaving the country. The story of the Swamp Ghost illustrates the international debate over ownership of salvaged wrecks and war surplus, told from a personal perspective by a journalist whose war-correspondent father died in PNG during WWII.
posted by amyms (13 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
an enterprising group, those papua new guineans: my dad was stationed there (at the same time the swamp ghost went down), one morning a little boy approached his unit offering scotch whisky for sale.

dad asked the boy "is it old?"

"oh no," the boy replied, "it's new. very new."
posted by bruce at 9:50 PM on October 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Very interesting article.

I was all ready to be enraged about the "salvagers," but in this case I think I'm with them. I'd rather see the plane in a museum -- any museum -- than rusting to dust in the jungle. Perhaps it would be better in a museum in New Guinea, or at least in the Smithsonian (if the US Government decides it wants its property back) than in the hands of a private collector, but I'd rather see it preserved than destroyed, one way or another.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:57 PM on October 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

See, I'd planned on linking to the B-52 segment with the zombies from Heavy Metal, but it doesn't seem to be on YouTube.
posted by sourwookie at 10:26 PM on October 7, 2007

That was fascinating. I suppose it links to general debates more widely in the field of archaeology and the conservation of artefacts - should they be restored, left in situ as they are, or left with additions? But naturally the arguments are slightly different here given that it's an artefact that has come from one place but ended up in another. I don't know - I think I'd rather it had been left there, on balance, even though I suspect this is silly and romantic of me.
posted by greycap at 10:51 PM on October 7, 2007

"They should have given us money, because it was our accustomed land," Begasi told me. "The plane would bring tourists, but now there is nothing. That village has no name now. If they left it there, it would have a name by now."

The people of PNG may have "forgotten time," but they know all about the bottom line.

The story of the Swamp Ghost illustrates the international debate over ownership of salvaged wrecks and war surplus

Park your wrecked airplane in my yard for 60 years and it's mine - at least until the parking fees are paid in full.
posted by three blind mice at 1:03 AM on October 8, 2007

I'd say leaving it there, considering the crew endorsed it from the air in subsequent missions. Sure, it would look good in a museum, but it has become part of the landscape - does that count for anything?
posted by triv at 5:31 AM on October 8, 2007

*Paging Dr. Ballard*
posted by Skygazer at 8:31 AM on October 8, 2007

Interesting. Thanks for the post.
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:01 AM on October 8, 2007

Google Maps Link
posted by brolloks at 9:34 AM on October 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

Ok, that google maps link is cool.
posted by dazed_one at 11:05 AM on October 8, 2007

Thanks for that Google Maps link, brollocks!
posted by amyms at 12:33 PM on October 8, 2007

That link is just amazingly cool.
posted by greycap at 2:33 PM on October 8, 2007

Swamp Ghost is, like, for general public consumption. Pacific Wrecks is where the hardcore go for real jungle mess. But...good link, and hat-tip on the Google Map.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 3:59 PM on October 8, 2007

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