Found: The Plane Wreck That Could Solve A 50-Year-Old Mystery

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#1
A great story of a hijacked plane which crashed into the sea , or was it shot down? This is also the tale of the diver who spent a decade searching for the wreck and now pondering the answers it may provide regarding this mystery. Should make for a good film.

Found: The plane wreck that could solve a 50-year-old mystery

It's taken 10 years, but professional diver Grahame Knott has finally found a US Air Force plane that crashed into the Channel in 1969. The wreck may help resolve a mystery: did the homesick mechanic who made off with the aircraft from his base in Suffolk lose control - or was he shot down?

"It cost me a fortune in beer," says Grahame Knott, "and I had to filter out a lot of chuff."

A crucial part of his decade of research was spent in pubs along the south coast of England, looking for men who operated trawlers and scallop dredgers.

These boats scrape nets along the seabed and occasionally turn up curious pieces of metal - which is what Knott was buying beer to hear about.

By listening carefully, he could guess whether the objects were likely to have come from aircraft, and if so how old they were, though it was not always easy to know exactly where they had become snagged in the net.

https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-46624382
 

Ermintruder

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#2
I heard the story of this stolen Hercules and the runaway USAF technical Sergeant for the first time via Radio4 UK in late summer, maybe three months before the reported discovery of this wreck.

Within that radio report, there was a strong implication that this hijacked USAF aircraft was shot down, either by an RAF aircraft or (if I remember correctly) possibly the French. This was based upon unverified rumours about the number of missiles left on the jet interceptor aircraft following their return.

The radio report this summer also stated (I think?) that non-standard pilots (possibly USAF?) suddenly arrived at operational bases, with documentation that gave them authority to commandeer armed aircraft, presumably enacting an unpublicised protocol in response to a renegade theft of a military aircraft.

I find it very odd that prior to the BBC Radio4 news item, I'd never heard any stories of this incident before, and would like to hear the opinions of other equally-ancient FMB members as to their own confirmed recollections from the era. Something as radical as this, during the height of the Cold War, would've been very hard to keep under wraps, and similarly so in subsequent years.

Maybe I've just missed it over the years, or was this covered by an official long-term news blackout? Or: is something else going on?
 

Bigphoot2

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I've been a bit of a propeller-head over the years and it's the first time I've heard this story. My first thought on hearing the story was that maybe there was something in the aircraft that the powers that be didn't want to fall into the wrong hands, but then that's the way my mind works :)
 

Coal

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#4
I find it very odd that prior to the BBC Radio4 news item, I'd never heard any stories of this incident before, and would like to hear the opinions of other equally-ancient FMB members as to their own confirmed recollections from the era. Something as radical as this, during the height of the Cold War, would've been very hard to keep under wraps, and similarly so in subsequent years.
For what it's worth, I was in Norfolk and 1969 and heard nothing. It's the sort of thing that would have been common gossip on an airbase even among school children. Having said that, I don't see any great mystery here. The guy wasn't a pilot, he either crashed or they shot it down to avoid him crashing into something that would have resulted in a greater loss of life.
 

escargot

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#5
The guy wasn't a pilot, he either crashed or they shot it down to avoid him crashing into something that would have resulted in a greater loss of life.
When have stolen planes been shot down though? It's not the normal way to deal with such an incident. Not in the UK or even the USA as far as I know.
 

EnolaGaia

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#6
The incident report can be reviewed at:

http://www.sammcgowan.com/meyers.html

There's no big mystery here. Meyer was drunk, had been detained, and was returned to his quarters for ongoing detention (more or less 'house arrest'). He escaped, changed into officer's flying apparel, managed to bully his way into getting the C-130 fully fueled, and took off before security personnel could stop him.

He almost crashed immediately after take-off by making an overly sharp turn. Meyer was an assistant crew chief, not a pilot. Flying a multi-engine plane can be much trickier than flying a single-engine aircraft.

While in the air he managed to set up a radio / telephone call patched through to his wife back in the USA, and he spoke with her for some minutes. His last radio transmission (to ATC) said he had a problem (unspecified) and he was going to try and fix it. The Hercules dropped off radar shortly after that.

The shoot-down rumors may have started because an F-100 fighter and a second C-130 were scrambled to intercept and aid Meyer. However, visibility was poor and neither plane was able to locate him before he disappeared from radar.

Subsequent searching located debris from that specific C-130 in the area where radar contact was lost. It was essentially 'case closed' within days.
 

Coal

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#7
When have stolen planes been shot down though? It's not the normal way to deal with such an incident. Not in the UK or even the USA as far as I know.
You think? Armed fighters are routinely scrambled to escort commercial airliners that even seem to be a bit off-course or unresponsive. They're not there to wave at them and see how they are. I've no doubt it has happened, will happen again and the contingency has existed for some time.
 

escargot

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You think? Armed fighters are routinely scrambled to escort commercial airliners that even seem to be a bit off-course or unresponsive. They're not there to wave at them and see how they are. I've no doubt it has happened, will happen again and the contingency has existed for some time.
Yup, but no planes are shot down. It's sorted another way. I can think of two examples where planes in America were patently out of control and weren't shot down.

One was when the plane carrying the golfer Payne Stewart became depressurised and flew on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed, and the other was in August when an airport employee stole and flew a plane for an hour near Seattle before crashing it and killing himself. In both those examples the planes were monitored but not shot at.

Surely nobody wants to take the decision to attack a plane in the air and not only kill the occupants but risk spraying the ground below with lethal wreckage?
 

EnolaGaia

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You think? Armed fighters are routinely scrambled to escort commercial airliners that even seem to be a bit off-course or unresponsive. ... I've no doubt it has happened, will happen again and the contingency has existed for some time.
Fighters were scrambled to monitor multiple hijacked airliners during the 1970's hijacking craze. AFAIK the closest thing to a pending shoot-down occurred in the early 1970's, when a hijacker mentioned something about Oak Ridge (Tennessee) and authorities became concerned he / they might try to crash the plane into one or another of the nuclear facilities there.


... Surely nobody wants to take the decision to attack a plane in the air and not only kill the occupants but risk spraying the ground below with lethal wreckage?
The Soviets did - sorta - in 1983, with KAL 007. According to the comm transcripts the controllers left the fire decision to the intercepting pilot. The pilot was running low on fuel and needed to turn back to base. He was caught in a dilemma, and elected to shoot when he reached the point of no choice except peeling off.
 

Ermintruder

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#11
Subsequent searching located debris from that specific C-130 in the area where radar contact was lost. It was essentially 'case closed' within days
Interesting. The extended BBC reporting on this incident (late summer) didn't appear to make mention of these details.

It also gave witness statements regarding non-local fighter pilots arriving in haste with authorisation documents, with specific instructions to go and intercept him.

There was no mention of any USAF / CF F100 fighters, nor anything about a second C130.

And I have zero recollection of this having been reported at or after the time it is now recorded as having happened: I will look at your link in more detail.
 

maximus otter

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When have stolen planes been shot down though? It's not the normal way to deal with such an incident. Not in the UK or even the USA as far as I know.
Only 4 months ago Air National Guard F-15s were scrambled to intercept a stolen Alaskan Airlines turboprop aircraft. Although the F-15s were armed with warshots, a decision was taken among the authorities not to shoot it down.

There were concerns that the thief might crash the aircraft in an inhabited area, but the results of the enquiry into the incident will not be made public. l infer that this is so as not to provide potential future idiots with safety guidelines, i.e. “As long as l don’t do X, Y or Z they aren’t allowed to shoot”.

Full story.

I have zero doubt that, sooner or later, a plane will be shot down under similar circumstances.

maximus otter
 

Krepostnoi

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#14
You think? Armed fighters are routinely scrambled to escort commercial airliners that even seem to be a bit off-course or unresponsive. They're not there to wave at them and see how they are. I've no doubt it has happened, will happen again and the contingency has existed for some time.
That's a post 9/11 thing, though, isn't it? Mind you, I suppose protocols could have been different for military aircraft in the decades prior. But still, I share Escargot's puzzlement around this.
 

Austin Popper

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#15
This thread is my first encounter with the incident. I have always been interested in any sort of aircraft, and this is a very unusual story. I'm sure I would remember seeing it. It's one of those weird situations that should not have happened for any number of reasons. It's hard to imagine Meyer being coherent enough to get access to the plane and get it off the ground, but still be out of it enough to think he'd pull it off. He apparently decided he'd figure out where he'd land and how he'd manage that feat after he got airborne. It's a very sad story.

The fighter planes sent to intercept him couldn't locate him within an hour and a half? MmmmHmmm...
 

RaM

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#17
There is a small mention of this in a book written by a EE Lightening pilot it goes something like

"I was on QRA when I received a call saying a American officer would be arriving and I was to
hand over the duty to him return to the officers mess and standby, I was not to talk to anyone.
The officer duly arrived duty handed over and I retired to the mess, not long after there was the
sound of a Lightening getting airborne.
Sometime later the fighter returned but instead of coming straight back to the standing it came back
via the armament dump, thoughts at the time were that the fighter had add one of it's Firestreak missiles
replaced and the aircraft had been used to down the C130 but for political reasons though it was acceptable
to use a British aircraft it was not acceptable to have a British pilot do the deed"
And there it was left for the reader to make their own mind up.
 

Ermintruder

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#18
I'm sure I would remember seeing it
Exactly. It's inconceivable that I wouldn't have heard of this story, at the time or shortly afterwards.

There is a small mention of this in a book written by a EE Lightening pilot it goes something like
THIS perspective is what was reported initially by the BBC, mid-2018

It's one of those weird situations that should not have happened for any number of reasons
Indeed. It has all sorts of improbable instances, all neatly linked together. If this had been a Hollywood movie, it would've seemed a highly-unlikely situation.
 

maximus otter

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#19
...a American officer would be arriving and I was to hand over the duty to him...
A fascinating story, but l have major reservations. The Lightning was a UK interceptor, never adopted by the Americans. Jet fighter aircraft are massively complex systems and you can’t just train on, say, Phantoms, then hop into the cockpit of a Lightning and fly it by the seat of your pants. Here are some comments from a highly-qualified Lightning pilot:

“It seemed to have myriad switches. all randomly located in the cockpit. It had an extremely eccentric starting system that was a bit like a Jules Verne Rocket...

From a handling point of view it was gloriously over-powered, something few aircraft have. With its highly swept wing and lack of any manoeuvre /combat flaps or slats the aircraft was often flown in the ‘light- heavy buffet’ which masked any seat-of-the pants feeling of an impending stall. It actually had few of the traditional ‘vices’ but could be a handful on landing...

It is a massively overpowered fighter with an incredibly high pilot work-load.”

https://hushkit.net/2015/11/18/flying-and-fighting-in-the-lightning/

You couldn’t just hop into one with the WWII RAF pilot’s attitude of “Kick the tyres, light the fires and the last one up’s a fairy”.

maximus otter
 

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#20
A fascinating story, but l have major reservations. The Lightning was a UK interceptor, never adopted by the Americans. Jet fighter aircraft are massively complex systems and you can’t just train on, say, Phantoms, then hop into the cockpit of a Lightning and fly it by the seat of your pants. Here are some comments from a highly-qualified Lightning pilot:

“It seemed to have myriad switches. all randomly located in the cockpit. It had an extremely eccentric starting system that was a bit like a Jules Verne Rocket...

From a handling point of view it was gloriously over-powered, something few aircraft have. With its highly swept wing and lack of any manoeuvre /combat flaps or slats the aircraft was often flown in the ‘light- heavy buffet’ which masked any seat-of-the pants feeling of an impending stall. It actually had few of the traditional ‘vices’ but could be a handful on landing...

It is a massively overpowered fighter with an incredibly high pilot work-load.”

https://hushkit.net/2015/11/18/flying-and-fighting-in-the-lightning/

You couldn’t just hop into one with the WWII RAF pilot’s attitude of “Kick the tyres, light the fires and the last one up’s a fairy”.

maximus otter
There were American pilots trained to fly Lightnings, this being the most famous Fortean example https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=143819
 

maximus otter

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There were American pilots trained to fly Lightnings, this being the most famous Fortean example https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=143819
Interesting.

I’d still say, however, that the chances of a USAF pilot - trained and current on Lightnings - being available “on tap” to react to a fast-developing crisis to which only a US response would be acceptable, are remote.

maximus otter
 

RaM

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#23
The Lightening was a hairy chested mans aeroplane that is undoubtedly true, not something
you would kick the tyres on and light the fires, It could be that the US pilot was already on
the base as a exchange pilot and could be known to the RAF pilot, but even after near 50 years
there are things people are not prepared to say so much about.
 

AgProv

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#24
The Soviets - a different kettle of fish!
All fish swim in the same sea; the Americans made a big moral outrage over 007, but a few years later, they shot down an Iranian airliner that was flying too close to their navy in the Persian Gulf...
 

Coal

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#25
That is the suspicious bit.
Bear in mind it was during the cold war and the plane was rather close to Portland where there is all sorts of naval/MOD stuff. Those factors would colour the response rather.

If it had been on the east cost they'd probably just have pointed a Bloodhound at it.
 

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Austin Popper

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I'm pretty sure it was early morning. 06:55 when he went in the drink, wasn't it? The Air Force said he was visible on radar until "shortly before" he crashed or something like that. Anyway, the official story goes into great detail about how he got away, and then gets awfully vague about the last hour or so of the flight.

Sorry, I don't buy the idea that a big stolen military plane, under the control of an impaired person who was not a pilot rates a response of one fighter jet and another flying boxcar. He had essentially zero chance of landing safely anywhere. F100s and Lightnings were both Mach 2 capable planes. Surely the French had been informed, in that hour and a half, that he was about to enter their airspace. Do we have any information about that, anywhere?

Again, it's a very sad story, and I'm sure the military had good reason to avoid discussing it.
 

EnolaGaia

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I'm pretty sure it was early morning. 06:55 when he went in the drink, wasn't it? The Air Force said he was visible on radar until "shortly before" he crashed or something like that. Anyway, the official story goes into great detail about how he got away, and then gets awfully vague about the last hour or so of the flight. ...
Meyer was not consistently visible on radar once he'd left the immediate area of his take-off. He was deliberately flying low to evade radar, nobody knew where he was headed, and the weather was relatively 'heavy' that night (making radar tracking more difficult).

I'm not sure at what point during the fatal flight they identified him as a renegade maintenance crew member. It became obvious when he patched through a phone call to his wife back in the States using his onboard radio link. The wife would later relate that a third party voice came on the line to ask her to keep Meyer talking as long as possible so they could determine his location.
 
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