Lady In Waiting
Reprinted from TIGHAR Tracks
Vol. 2, No.2, Spring 1986 with permission. Article by Ric Gillespie, Executive Director of TIGHAR, who visited B-17 41-2446
on April 18, 1986 via Bell JetRanger helicopter duration 2 hours (7.50 to 9.50)
On Friday, April 18, 1986 briefcases were traded for bush knives and a visit was made to the Agaiambo Swamp for a first hand look at the object of our efforts. Space here does not permit a full account of that survey but a few words may give some feeling of the place and the experience. Papua New Guinea is beautiful and it's big. By helicopter it's an hour and a half of triple-canopy rain forest, mountains, and swamp from Port Moresby to the B-17. Occasional villages, sharp ridges, deep gorges. If the engine of this JetRanger bites it we're all crocodile bait.
Once deposited on the wing of the B-17 (with a promise from the helicopter
pilot to return someday), the phrase “ends of the earth” takes on new meaning.
The aircraft is an island in the grass. It's quiet--a quiet few Americans
ever hear. A bird sings from the top of the tail, a butterfly lands on a bent prop tip, a column of ants marches past the top turret. Four feet of crystal clear water glints in the fuselage. Tiny fish swim from the radio room into the bomb bay.
The kunai grass is everywhere, screening, obstructing and carpeting. The swamp slowly enfolds and swallows the bomber as an anemone does a minnow. Inside it's dark, cool, sterile. Looters have stripped what they could, but like a proud lady she has kept her grandeur despite these indignities. From her unblemished nose to the graceful sweep of her tail, the uncorroded skin returns the lantern's shine. She is clean, not a cobweb, unnatural, and unsettling.
Outside again the equatorial sun is higher. A careless hand on her bare skin gets a blistering lesson in manners. The Agaiambo Swamp seems no longer tranquil, but menacing. The distant beat of the helicopter is a welcome sound.