The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery
2366 Hickory Hill Road · Oxford, PA · 19363 · USA
610.467.1937 · info@tighar.org

Facebook icon utube icon twitter icon instagram icon

Expedition: December 10 – December 14, 2018

The view from the window on the way to Yeovil.

The Glenn Miller Research Team is on the ground in Yeovil, England.

Today’s missions:
  1. Get there. 
  2. Remember which side of the road to drive on.
  3. Settle into team roles – Mark films, Ric runs interviews, Ernie takes notes, everyone asks questions.
  4. Meet with Mr. Fisher and our local TIGHAR member, Dave Morris.

The plan for tomorrow:

  1. Meet with Mr. Fisher and Dave Morris to drive to the Hydrographic Office to look at maps and talk to the hydrographers.
  2. While there, meet with an expert in converting old navigational coordinates into modern lat/long format, which will help pinpoint the location.
  3. Also meet with the person who is in charge of keeping track of where wrecks are in the Channel.

There is still active trawling in the area, and it's much more destructive than it used to be, which decreases the chances of finding anything. However, a Fairey Buccaneer was found by a pipeline survey team just recently, and it is in good enough condition to recover for a museum – so you never know.


Ric and Mr. "Fisher" at the Hydrographic Office.

H.M. Hydrographic Office:

Questions and Some Answers

The Hydrographic Office was wonderfully cooperative and accommodating, patient with endless rounds of questions, searching for charts, explaining background, and finding information.

We hoped that there was an archive of old charts, including the one that Mr. Fisher was using back in 1987. Unfortunately, while the HO has an excellent collection, they don’t have a DECCA chart that goes back that far. The DECCA system was abandoned in the 90s. The coordinates that Mr. Fisher has don’t match anything in the modern system and can’t be converted without a chart.

We need to find a DECCA chart of the right vintage — mid-eighties. Mr. Fisher says it had blue, purple, and green lines on it, and that different charts from different years would have different colored lines. A collector (or hoarder) is probably our best bet.

He was able to identify the area to within a few miles using current charts. All known wrecks are plotted on the modern charts, and he was able to figure it out from those points.

A survey from 2001-2002, using side scan sonar, shows a “wreck” charted in that area, and also something labelled “obstruction.” A wreck is almost always a shipwreck; an obstruction is something that sticks up but is small than a shipwreck. In this case, the wreck is listed as an “unmarked bell” – a ship’s bell with no name on it. A diver was put down on the obstruction and found it to be a pile of stone, most likely ballast from a ship.

Since Fisher doesn’t know exactly where he was, it makes sense to work back the other way: look at known aircraft wrecks in the area where he could have been trawling. That’s a separate database, kept elsewhere; the HO has provided a link to that resource and we’ll be able to do the research ourselves.

Tomorrow:

  1. A trip to Weymouth, the harbor (sorry, harbour) where Fisher based his trawler.
  2. A visit to the local Coast Guard station just in case they have a chart.
  3. A visit to the primary ship chandler’s in Weymouth, to ask them to publicize our need for the DECCA chart (there’s 20 quid in it for someone....).
  4. Then off to Portland Bill to get drone footage of the area where the Norseman crossed the coastline and headed out over the Channel and into ice.

The Sailor’s Return: Fisherman’s pub in Weymouth.

Following Up On Intentions

The team pulled in to Weymouth about 10 in the morning, and went to the address listed for the Coast Guard Station. Oh. It closed six years ago.

Well, what next. There’s a ship chandler’s shop next door, maybe ask in there. “Do you have any ideas about how to get hold of an old chart, someone we might be able to connect with today?”

“You need to go to the Sailors Return, it’s the pub in town where the captains and sailors go, not a tourist trap.”

Talk to the owner, Andy. Describe chart. “Can you put out the word around the pub, see if anyone might have a lead on this chart?”

“Ah, you need to talk to Jamie. Jamie, come here and talk to these folks.”

Jamie is young, maybe in his 30s. He collects charts. He knows everyone in the seafaring community. He has one of these charts. He goes and gets it out of his attic. They spread it out. It’s a 1977 DECCA chart, and besides the officially labelled wrecks and obstructions, there are handwritten notations that have been added. He agrees to sell the chart to TIGHAR.

Jamie also has a notebook of the locations of many aircraft wrecks in the Channel, with lat/long, matched to this and other charts. He doesn’t let people see his notebook, but he does seem willing to give out some information, once Andy says, “I know who these people are, I’ve seen them on tv. They’re ok.”

OK, let’s plot Mr. Fisher’s coordinates on this chart. There are small obstructions noted by hand on it, but nothing official.

Andy says, “You need to talk to Grahame Knott. He charts old wrecks with his boat.” Andy calls Grahame and tells him the team is on the way. It’s fine with Grahame; he’s not a member of TIGHAR, but has followed our work for years and in fact subscribes to our email newsletter. He was expecting us.

Grahame uses his privately owned boat and side-scan rig to find and chart wrecks and obstructions in the Channel. This past summer he found a USAF C-130 that was stolen by an aircraft mechanic in 1969; the poor fellow was homesick and was planning to fly it back to Virginia. He didn’t make it, crashed in the Channel. Grahame has a database of his sonar imagery and will email us the images that correspond to the coordinates we have from Mr. Fisher.

The tip of Portland Bill.

Having done all this, off to Portland Bill. It was very cold, and there was a wind off the Channel at 25 knots. No way to fly the drone, it would have been blown clear to Wales. But plenty of film shot, and a general impression received that ditching in the English Channel in December would be a very poor idea.

Ric will deliver the chart to David, who will meet with Mr. Fisher again and confirm with him that this is the right chart, and the coordinates are the right coordinates. Then David will send the chart on to us.

Accomplishments:

  1. We have the chart.
  2. We have the lat/long that corresponds to the nav coordinates.
  3. We know the wreck locations in the area.
  4. We will have side-scan images.

Tomorrow:

About mid-day, turn in the hired car, and meet with the driver of the van to go back to the hotel at Heathrow and get flights out.


Expedition Report

Mark Smith, Ernie Leroy, and Ric Gillespie are home safe from the wilds of Somerset and Dorset. Having survived Ric’s driving on narrow English country roads, negotiating countless roundabouts shared with giant lorries, Mark and Ernie will never have to prove their courage any other way. The landing channel at Niku on a bad day is safer.

    This trip was absolutely necessary for moving the Glenn Miller Project forward. What the team accomplished could only have been done on the ground in England. We should soon have the information we need to make a judgment about whether a physical search for the wreckage of the Miller aircraft is warranted. 

     Here’s a  summary of what we learned:

  1. “Mr. Fisher” is honorable, publicity-shy, sincere, and utterly convinced that the plane he hauled up in 1987 was the Miller aircraft.
  2. We were not able to find independent corroboration of his account. He reported the incident to the Coast Guard at the time, but Coast Guard logs of such reports were lost in a recent re-organization of their reporting system.
  3. His remembered DECCA coordinates for the wreck location don’t make any sense on the charts held by the Hydrographic Office, but the DECCA charts they have are of a later date than the one he was using.
  4. There are a couple of charted wrecks in the general area where Mr. Fisher says he was, but they were surveyed in 2001 and the Hydro Office was able to give us the divers’ reports that eliminate them as aircraft.
  5. During our “pub research” in Weymouth, the port Mr. Fisher sailed from, we were able to acquire a DECCA chart of the correct vintage. The chart may enable him to come up with a more precise location for the wreck.
  6. Fishing captains in Weymouth were generous in providing us with information about known wrecks in the subject area.  Local knowledge is far superior to the government’s info.  We have the lat/long of several wrecks, a couple of which are unidentified and at least one of which is known to be an aircraft of an unknown type. It helped that the guys in the pub already knew about TIGHAR. “Right. I know who are.  I saw you on the telly.”
  7. In Weymouth we also connected with a wreck hunter who has side-scan sonar imagery of the wrecks in our area of interest and is happy to share it with us.
  8. At Portland Bill the wind was too strong for Mark to fly the drone but he got some good video of the incredibly rough and forbidding Channel.

     Mark Smith and Ric are now coordinating on the production of a mini-documentary of the trip to share with contributors to the Glenn Miller Project. Click HERE to make your donation.


About TIGHAR Join TIGHAR TIGHAR Projects TIGHAR Publications Contract Services
The TIGHAR Store Blog TIGHAR Forum Contact TIGHAR TIGHAR Home

Copyright 2019 by TIGHAR, a non-profit foundation. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be reproduced by xerographic, photographic, digital or any other means for any purpose. No portion of the TIGHAR Website may be stored in a retrieval system, copied, transmitted or transferred in any form or by any means, whether electronic, mechanical, digital, photographic, magnetic or otherwise, for any purpose without the express, written permission of TIGHAR. All rights reserved.

Contact us at: info@tighar.org  •   Phone: 610.467.1937   •   JOIN NOW