Great Britain's Royal Air Force Museum has begun an operation to salvage a German bomber from the English Channel. The World War II aircraft was shot down during the Battle of Britain in 1940.
Divers began salvaging a German Dornier Do 17 bomber from waters off the coast of southeastern England on Saturday in an effort to preserve the only known surviving model of the World War II-era aircraft.
The wrecked Dornier Do 17 was discovered by divers in 2008 at Goodwin Sands off the coast of Kent. Sonar scans later confirmed it was a Dornier Do 17, with experts describing it as being in "remarkable condition." While hundreds of German bombers were shot down during the Battle of Britain, none of them survived intact, as the wreckage was melted down and used to produce British aircraft.
"The discovery and recovery of the Dornier is of national and international importance," said Air Vice-Marshal Peter Dye, director general of the Royal Air Force Museum. "The aircraft is a unique and unprecedented survivor from the Battle of Britain and the Blitz."
London's RAF Museum raised 600,000 pounds ($934,000 or 712,000 euros) to lift the bomber's remains from the English Channel. The aircraft is submerged under 60 feet (20 meters) of water. Divers are building a metal frame around the wreckage, which will then be lifted from the seabed. The salvage operation is expected to take three to four weeks.
"We are not guaranteed success," Dye said. "There have been previous aircraft recovery projects that didn't go so well, cases where the structure has disintegrated on retrieval. When it breaks the surface, gravity and the laws of mechanics come into play, so we very much hope the frame we've constructed will support that structure."
'Young men died on both sides'
The Dornier Do 17 in question was shot down on August 26, 1940, during the height of the Battle of Britain, according to the RAF Museum. The bomber made a successful emergency landing at Goodwin Sands - a sandbank off the coast of Kent - after it came under attack. But the bomber subsequently sank. Two German crewmen were captured alive and taken prisoner, while the bodies of two others were found washed ashore.
If the plane is successfully lifted from the English Channel, it will undergo several years of conservation treatment before being put on display. The Dornier wreckage will be packed into a special chemical gel and plastic sheeting to protect it from damage caused by air exposure. It will then be taken to the RAF Museum in Cosford for two to three years of treatment.
The RAF Museum plans to display the German Dornier wreckage next to a British Hawker Hurricane fighter plane shot down around the same time.
"We feel it is important that they be exhibited side by side," Dye said. "With time, we recognize that young men died on both sides, which is why we don't intend to restore it. We will conserve it and place it on exhibition alongside the wreck of a Hurricane shot down at much the same time in which a British pilot died."
slk/jlw (AFP, AP, dpa)