Almost Perfectly Preserved WWII Fighter Discovered in Sahara Desert    70 Years After DisappearingIt’s not quite the same as the opening sequence to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” but it’s awfully close.

The Daily Mail reports that a Polish oil company worker, Jakub Perka, has discovered an “almost perfectly preserved” Kittyhawk P-40 that crash-landed in the Sahara Desert in 1942.

“Despite the crash impact, most of the aircraft’s cockpit instruments are intact,” according to the report.

Almost Perfectly Preserved WWII Fighter Discovered in Sahara Desert    70 Years After DisappearingBecause there are no human remains and because there are signs of the makeshift camp near the WWII aircraft, historians believe RAF Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping, 24, survived the crash.

“He must have survived the crash because one photo shows a parachute around the frame of the plane and my guess is the poor bloke used it to shelter from the sun,” British historian Andy Saunders. “The radio and batteries were out of the plane and it looks like he tried to get it working.”

Almost Perfectly Preserved WWII Fighter Discovered in Sahara Desert    70 Years After DisappearingSadly, authorities believe Copping died trying to cross the desert. The nearest town from the crash site is 200 miles away.

“Once he had crashed there nobody was going to come and get him,” Saunders said. “It is more likely he tried to walk out of the desert but ended up walking to his death. It is too hideous to contemplate.”

The RAF Museum plans to retrieve the aircraft for historical display.

“The aviation historical world is hugely excited about this discovery,” Saunder said. “This plane has been lying in the same spot where it crashed 70 years ago. It hasn’t been hidden or buried in the sand, it has just sat there.”

“It is a quite incredible time capsule, the aviation equivalent of Tutankhamun’s Tomb,” he added.

Almost Perfectly Preserved WWII Fighter Discovered in Sahara Desert    70 Years After DisappearingHowever, British authorities believe they are in a race against time. They fear the locals will strip the recently discovered aircraft of parts and equipment. In fact, according to the Daily Mail, the plane’s guns and ammunition (which were perfectly preserved) have already been seized by the Egyptian military for “safety reasons.”

Almost Perfectly Preserved WWII Fighter Discovered in Sahara Desert    70 Years After Disappearing“The plane is in a very good condition but sadly it is being stripped by some locals who don’t regard it as part of their heritage but as a piece of junk that may have some scrap value,” Saunders said.

“Things are happening very slowly with the recovery, mainly because we are in the hands of the Egyptian authorities,” he added.

“The MoD needs to act and get the plane out of there as soon as possible rather than embarking upon a great deal of hand-wringing and meetings to discuss its future.”

Almost Perfectly Preserved WWII Fighter Discovered in Sahara Desert    70 Years After DisappearingBut what happened? What brought the aircraft down?

“It would appear the pilot got into trouble and just brought it down in the middle of the desert,” Saunders said.

The Daily Mail gives a little more background on the nature of Copping’s role in the RAF and what might have led to the crash:

In 1942 he was a member of the RAF’s 260 Squadron, a fighter unit based in Egypt during the North Africa campaign.

By June of that year the Allies were retreating from ‘Desert Fox’ Erwin Rommel and his German forces.

On June 28 Ft Sgt Copping and another airman were tasked with flying two damaged Kittyhawk P-40 planes from one British airbase in northern Egypt to another for repair.

During the short flight Ft Sgt Copping lost his bearings, went off course and was never seen again.
[…]
It was documented at the time that there was a fault with its front landing gear which would not retract and the photographic evidence suggests the aircraft had its front wheel down when it crashed.
[…]
There is also flak damage in the fuselage, which is also consistent with documented evidence of Ft Sgt Copping’s plane.

The report adds that a search will be launched to find the lost airman’s remains.

“The pilot isn’t in the plane but there is evidence to suggest he got out,” Captain Paul Collins, the British defence attache to Egypt, said, “it is extremely unlikely that we will find any remains.”

It’s believed Cooping doesn’t have any immediate family members left in the UK

Almost Perfectly Preserved WWII Fighter Discovered in Sahara Desert    70 Years After DisappearingConsidering the crash was 70 years ago, its equipment is still great condition.

All photos courtesy Jakub Perka/BNPS