On December 15th, 1944, a small plane carrying bandleader Glenn Miller to a concert to entertain the troops in Paris disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel. The disappearance was not reported until December 24th and the plane has never been found.
Those last lines of every obituary written about Glenn Miller – one of the most popular big band leaders of all time and one of the best-selling recording artists ever – may soon need to be updated. A group of historical aircraft researchers – the same ones looking for the missing plane of Amelia Earhart – have found a credible witness who claims his fishing trawler once dredged up the plane … but was unable to safely tow it in and had to drop it back into the English Channel.
"These things often start with stories - if he really did pull up this wreck and let it go again, but knows where he let it go, the possibility exists there is a defined area that could be searched. And if his recollection is correct there is a possibility the wreckage of the Glenn Miller aircraft could be located."
Fortunately, the trawlerman identified only as Mr. Fisher (a fisherman named Fisher -- really?) wrote down the coordinates of the spot where he left the plane in 1987 and Richard Gillespie, the executive director of TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery) believes his group will be able to find it. Mr. Fisher’s coordinates show the location being about 30 miles south of Portland Bill, a promontory (bill) at the southern end of the Isle of Portland on the southernmost point of Dorset, England – a location further west that where most researchers have long believed the plane went down. So, why isn’t TIGHAR out there with a trawler pulling the wreckage up?
“Miller’s airplane was not metal. It was a steel tube frame covered with fabric and it had some aluminum panels on it, plus of course, an engine and a propeller. By now all the fabric is almost certainly gone. The wings were wooden too, so they’re going to be gone. So, what you have got is a steel frame that very possibly has been encountered by other fishermen. You have this mangled steel frame and an engine that may or may not be fully or partially buried in the sand. So, it’s not going to look like an airplane. It’s just going to look a mess.”
Gillespie says admits there’s probably not much left of the single-engine Noorduyn UC-64A Norseman after 74 years, but he’s hoping that two particular pieces can be found -- a steel-tubed fuselage and a Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine. The Norseman was the only p[lane made with that combination and all other Norse planes that have crashed in the Channel have been found. By process of elimination …
“So, if you find that, you’ve found the Miller aircraft.”
Can TIGHAR find it? Gillespie explained to PEOPLE that first he has to raise the money to fund a side-scan sonar search of the area, followed by seabed search using a remotely operated vehicle equipped with a video camera. If there’s anything that looks like the plane, a diver will descend 130 feet to examine and possibly recover an identifiable piece. While he didn’t put a price tag on it, the expedition is obviously the kind that should raise the interest of cable TV channels looking for something other than trash pickers to cover.
The search for Miller’s plane, like Earhart’s, should also interest conspiracy theorists. There have long been unsubstantiated claims that Miller’s disappearance was kept quiet and the search stopped because either the plane was shot down by friendly fire or accidentally hit by unused bombs dropped by Allied planes returning from raids over Germany. The Nazis had their own conspiracy theory that Miller’s plane actually made it to Paris, but the crash story was created to cover up rumors that he died of a heart attack while visiting a prostitute in a Parisian bordello.
Whatever the case, the possibility that one of the most famous disappearances of World Was II may finally be solved has many “in the mood” for more details. Stay tuned!