The first-ever licensed excavation of a Second World War US fighter plane in Ireland has taken place in a Co Monaghan field.
A team including a Second World War aviation historian, Queen’s University Belfast surveyors and pupils from Foyle College in Derry and Ballybay Community College in Co Monaghan, working in conjunction with Monaghan County Museum, retrieved the remaining parts of a twin-engined fighter on Saturday.
The P38 Lightning aircraft crashed into a stony field near Castleblayney on the December 17 1942.
The US pilot, Second Lieutenant Milo E Rundall, aged 22, from Iowa, baled out successfully after he got lost on an evening flight from Langford Lodge, on the eastern shores of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland.
He was returning home to his base with the 82nd Fighter Group, who were based at the US Army Air Station 344, Eglinton in Derry, now the City of Derry Airport.
He later took part in the Allies North Africa campaign against Germany but was shot down and taken prisoner in January 1943.
After the war he returned to his hometown in Iowa and died in 2006.
Now his daughter Merryl Rundall intends to visit Ireland to see the remnants of her father’s plane.
Irish Defence Forces personnel recovered most of the wreckage in 1942.
But, licensed ground-penetrating radar surveys undertaken by the project team along with both schools in early 2019 revealed that not all the aircraft was recovered by the military.
The team were granted the necessary archaeological licences by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht National Monuments Unit and the National Museum of Ireland to legally undertake the dig and preserve the recovered remains.
Liam Bradley, curator of Monaghan County Museum, said: “This excavation will be the final project in our three-year examination of the impact of the Second World War on our border county.”
“The retrieved items will be preserved and put on display as part of our nationally acclaimed exhibition The Monaghan Spitfire – Life On The Border With A World At War which runs in the museum until the end of 2019”.
“Other parts of the P38 wreckage will be put on display in Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Tower Museum which already proudly hosts the 2011 recovered remains of Spitfire P8074 flown by US Eagle pilot Bud Wolfe.
“The City of Derry Airport, which was this aircraft’s former base, is also delighted to be able to display a range of recovered artefacts.”
Dig organiser and aviation historian Jonny McNee said the pupils were very eager to participate in the dig and find out what lied buried in the field.
“The opportunity for the pupils to participate in these digs and talk to the family of the pilot and the wider P38 family in the US is something that can’t be learned from books,” he said.
Mr McNee said the pupils were very media savvy and had been quick to use social media to get in contact with various interested P38 groups across the US.
He added that the pilot’s family had been traced to US and they had managed to get in touch with the pilot’s daughter, Merryl Rundall.
Mr McNee said she was very excited about the excavation and was considering atrip to Ireland later in the year to see the Monaghan exhibition and her father’s former base in Derry.
Ms Rundall said: “I’m getting my passport renewed.
“This dig is pretty cool – my father would say ‘I just did my job; why would anyone care about my old P38?””