WW2 wreck of fighter plane off Welsh coast gets protected status

Ghostly remains of ‘Maid of Harlech’ occasionally visible in the sand

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning, nicknamed the Maid of Harlech, is sometimes visible in the sand. Photograph: Joseph Mearman/SCSEE/Bangor University

The skeletal remains of an American fighter plane that crashed during the second world war off the Welsh coast, and occasionally emerge ghost-like from the seabed, have been given protected status.

Welsh government officials say the resting place of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, nicknamed the Maid of Harlech, is the first military aircraft crash site in the UK to be protected for its historic and archaeological interest.

The fighter aircraft is buried around two metres below the seabed off the coast at Harlech in north Wales. When sea and sand conditions are just right it becomes visible in the sand.

Cadw, the Welsh government’s historic environment service, has given the plane scheduled status. It joins castles, abbeys and prehistoric sites as well as buildings and sites connected to the iron, coal and slate industries in Wales that are protected.

The plane crashed in September 1942. It was flown by Second Lt Robert F Elliott, 24, of Rich Square, North Carolina, from Llanbedr on a gunnery practice mission but got into difficulties and had to crash land. The pilot walked away safely from the incident but was reported missing in action a few months later.

His nephew, Robert Elliott, has visited the site and said he was pleased the wreck had been scheduled. “I am honoured and delighted that Cadw has given official recognition of my uncle’s plane as a scheduled monument,” he said. “My uncle was among archaeology best those brave and expert fighter pilots who served with distinction during the second world war. My visit to the site in 2016 was very moving and emotional.”

The plane has been uncovered three times since it crashed – in the 1970s, in 2007 and most recently in 2014. There are no plans to salvage it.

A Lockheed P-38 Lightning, though not the same one as in Wales, in its prime in 1943. Photograph: Apic/Getty Images

Matt Rimmer, a local aviation historian, said: “I have been an advocate for the preservation of historic military aircraft crash sites in Wales for over 20 years. I’m thrilled to see the Harlech P-38 scheduled by Cadw.

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