In December of 1941, the United States was thrust into the fighting of World War II by way of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and by the summer of 1942, the U.S. Army Air Force (the Air Force wouldn’t be established for another five years) set about hopping a variety of aircraft from base to base across the North Atlantic. With limited fuel range, these aircraft had to make frequent stops, and because of the inhospitable weather, not all aircraft survived the journey to Europe.
One such formation of brand new Lockheed P-38F Lightnings were lost somewhere between Maine and Scotland on July 15, 1942, and while the crews of these aircraft were all rescued nine days later, the planes themselves were a total loss. Left behind, the six fighters were lost to the ice, slowly being engulfed by Greenland’s shifting ice sheets until hardly any evidence of the ill-fated flight remained. That is, until 1993, when one of those lost fighters, now known as “Glacier Girl” was discovered. That P-38F was ultimately liberated from the ice and fully restored thanks to the 22-year effort (and financing) of Kentucky businessman Roy Shoffner. Unfortunately, Glacier Girl was the only lost aircraft to be found or recovered in the effort, but belief remained strong that the five remaining aircraft were at least partially intact, hidden away somewhere beneath as much as 300 feet of ice.
Now, however, it appears a second aircraft from that long-lost flight has been discovered by the non-profit, Arctic Hot Point Solutions. They have been hot on the tail of this lost fighter since 2011, using ground penetrating radar to sweep for anomalies deep beneath the ice. Earlier this year, that effort was bolstered by the use of drones equipped with the same type of radar systems, allowing them to cover more territory in shorter amounts of time than ever before — and it would appear that the effort has now paid off.
Once the team identified an anomaly deep beneath the ice that seemed to approximate one of the lost P-38Fs, the team used a heat probe to melt through the ice down to the area indicated by the radar sweep, hoping to come into physical contact with the material of the aircraft to confirm its presence. Operating with little more than a blurry radar signature to go on, the team acknowledged that they could have found anything, be it “a large rock, or a woolly mammoth,” but as the pulled the probe back to the surface, they were surprised to find it covered in some sort of red fluid.
After a bit of discussion, the team, comprised largely of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, realized what they were looking at — 5606 hydraulic fluid. Just like one might expect to find at the crash site of a World War II-era fighter plane. Jim Salazar, co-founder of Arctic Hot Point Solutions, has spent years searching without ever coming across one of the downed aircraft before — making the discovery a welcome surprise.
“We pulled it up, and boy it was pretty dense, all over the place—our jackets, on the floor, all over our hands, and it was quite a surprise,” Salazar said. “We weren’t anticipating that.”
Since the discovery, Salazar and the rest of the Arctic Hot Point Solutions team have been able to identify the aircraft as the P-38 “Echo,” that had been piloted by Robert Wilson back in 1942. Now, the team plans to return next summer to begin the excavation process, which will likely include using heated plates to melt down to the area of the aircraft followed by using hot water to clear a cavern around the plane. Once there’s space to work, it will be disassembled and brought to the surface in pieces, just as the “Glacier Girl” was in the 90s.
This isn’t the only recovery effort Arctic Hot Point Solutions is conducting in the region, however. The search continues for a lost Coast Guard Grumman J2F Duck lost in November of 1942. It’s believed that the plane still has the remains of three crew members on board.
Featured image: The P-38 “Echo” is part of the Lost Squadron of aircraft that were forced to crash land in Greenland during a blizzard. | U.S. Army