Explorers find lost plane of WWII fighter ace

A team of explorers from Pacific Wrecks have discovered the lost plane of WWII ace pilot, Richard Bong.

Dubbed, Wisconsin’s ‘Ace of Aces’, Richard Bong was a fighter pilot who served three tours of duty during WWII. He is credited with a total of 40 aerial victories, earning him the title as one of America’s highest scoring fighter pilots.

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Whilst conducting an acceptance flight on August 6th, 1945, Bong was piloting a P-80A Shooting Star, serial number 44-85048, when he experienced a fuel pump malfunction shortly after take-off. Forced to bail out, he was too low for his parachute to deploy and tragically died on impact with the ground.

During his earlier career, Bong flew a Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter with serial number 42-103993. The plane was nicknamed “Marge”, in honour of his girlfriend, Marjorie “Marge” Ann Vattendahl.

On March 24, 1944, “Marge” was flown by 2nd Lt. Thomas E. Malone on a weather reconnaissance mission over New Guinea. During the flight, the propeller failed to feather, followed by an electrical failure, causing the plane to enter an uncontrollable spin. Malone successfully bailed out south of Madang, while “Marge” crashed into the northern jungle of New Guinea.

As part of a joint venture between the Bong Veterans Historical Centre, and the Pacific Wrecks nonprofit group, the explorers have discovered Bong’s P-38 following two days of trekking in the country’s Madang Province.

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The plane was found with two engines above ground level, and still coloured with Bong’s signature red paint. On the wingtip is a U.S. Army stencil with the last three digits of the plane’s serial number, 993, confirming that the team had found the wreckage of “Marge.

Briana Fiandt, curator of collections at the Bong Center, said: “This discovery not only honours Richard Bong’s memory, but also serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by all those who served during World War II. It is a tribute to their courage, their service and their enduring impact on our nation’s history.”

Header Image Credit : Esther Dyson – CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

Sources : Pacific Wrecks

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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