September 23, 1944, a British bomber of the type Avro Lancaster III crashed at the Humeloseweg near Zelhem (NL). The plane landed almost vertically. Because part of the bombload was still present on board, there was a huge explosion, killing six of the seven crew members. The plane wreck and its crew have never been officially recovered. The municipality of Bronkhorst decided to salvage the aircraft wreck for safety reasons and out of piety for the next of kin.

The municipality had several goals: cleaning up soil contamination and UXO,  but also creating a more concrete picture for the family members of the deceased  and their commemoration. In addition, the results were used for educational purposes.

Because of the risk of UXO in the subsoil, it was of great importance to carry the work out safely. The salvaging operations were therefore carried out under current UXO (WSCS-OCE) legislation and archaeological supervision

Identification

October 23, 2013, evidence was found that the crashed plane was indeed the Lancaster ED470. Amongst the last recovered parts was  a piece of armor plate with the number 470, making it possible to identify the plane. No large UXO or material remains have been found in the crater. After the salvaging operation, the detection area could be declared free of UXO.


75 years after the Second World War, airplane wrecks with human remains can still be found in the Dutch subsurface or seabed. In September 2019 a special multi-year project financed by the Dutch Government was started  for the salvaging of many dozens of World War II aircraft wrecks with missing crew members.

Promising salvaging operations project

The Studiegroep Luchtoorlog 1939-1945 (SGLO) convinced Dutch politicians to do something about the situation and handed over a list of promising salvages. The SGLO has been researching crashed aircrafts and their crew for years. Over 5500 aircraft were lost in the Netherlands during the Second World War. A large part still remains in the Dutch subsurface. In about 400 aircrafts, the remains of crew members are probably still present. Recent research shows that the number of locations where remains of missing crew members can be found with some degree of certainty is limited. According to the insights of the SGLO, it concerns 30 to 50 locations.  

First salvaging operation

The first aircraft in the series of promising salvagings with missing crew is the Short Stirling W7630 MG-M, a RAF aircraft that crashed in 1942. The excavations in Echt-Susteren, Limburg, started on September 16th 2019. In September 1942, returning from Düsseldorf, the damaged aircraft landed on a field which belonged to an abbey. Two crew members managed to escape with a parachute. One of the pilots survived the war, two others were found dead and were immediately buried. The other four occupants are missing and will hopefully be found after almost eighty years  

Role of T&A Survey

For the salvaging of the Short Stirling, T&A Survey has mapped and visualized the horizontal and vertical delimitation of the crashed aircraft, as well as the environmental and soil conditions. T&A carried out the same survey for an aircraft salvaging operation in Markermeer. In the coming years, about three aircrafts per year are expected to be salvaged.



T&A Survey conducted a detection and demarcation investigation for the Municipality of Almere into the suspected wreckage of a British bomber crashed in the Markermeer during the Second World War. The goal of the survey is to enable the salvaging operation of the aircraft.

The Crash

The Short Stirling Mk III crashed approximately 3.5 km off the coast of Almere in the night of 29 to 30 May 1943. It was suspected that the wreckage also contained the remains of the crew members and (part of) the bomb load.

Detection

Before an actual salvaging operation can be started, a detection investigation had to take place. The aim was the accurately locate and perform a depth analysis of the wreckage parts and explosives. For this purpose, ferrous and non-ferrous detection techniques were  moved across the research area with a survey boat.

Delineation study with divers

The detection survey has resulted in various suspected objects and locations. The client wanted a further investigation with certified divers on several locations just outside the demarcated area, in order to be able to determine with greater certainty whether the project area might need to be expanded. Equipped with a metal detector or gradiometer and video camera, the divers relocated the disturbances and identification could begin. Where the disturbance was deep in the sludge layer, the sludge was removed with a suction pump and passed through a sieve installation. This eliminated the chance of missing possible evidence.

Results

Remains of the aircraft wreck have been found at a number of locations. The research results have been reported and evaluated with the Staff Officer for Aircraft Storage (SOVB), the person responsible for aircraft salvaging. Thanks to this research, it was possible to put the final salvaging operation on the market. Due to the enormous distribution of the remains of the plane wreck, the recovery seems to be quite a job.

Photo below right: part of landing gear found on location.





Client
Project goal
Municipality of Almere
Demarcation survey for salvaging operation of Short Stirling MKIII BK716
Municipality of Echt-Susteren
Demarcation survey for salvaging operation of Short Stirling W7630 MG-M
Municipality of  Bronckhorst
Archeologische begeleiding berging vliegtuigwrak uit WOII te Zelhem
Province of Friesland
Demarcation survey crash location of a Lancaster in Ald Dwinger landfill
Vallei en Veluwe Water Authority
Demarcation survey crash location WWII aircraft near mill "De Vlijt" in Wapenveld
Municipality of Werkendam
Demarcation survey crash location of a Lancaster in Werkendam