Explorers find Richard Bong’s plane that’s been missing since World War II in Jungle ravine

  • Richard Bong was a WW2 hero nicknamed the ‘Ace of Aces’
  • His plane went down in Papua New Guinea during the war
  • Now, a team of explorers believe they have ‘definitely’ found it

Published on May 24, 2024 at 2:31 PM (UTC+4)
by Tom Wood

Last updated on May 24, 2024 at 6:30 PM (UTC+4)
Edited by Alessandro Renesis

A team of explorers are convinced that they have located the plane belonging to World War Two flying hero Richard Bong.

The search party was a joint operation between the Richard I. Bong Historical Center and not-for-profit history group Pacific Wrecks.

They have discovered some plane wreckage in the South Pacific that they believe could be that of Bong’s aircraft, a Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter jet.

Bong had nicknamed the plane ‘Marge’ in honor of his girlfriend, Marge Vattendahl.

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During World War Two, Bong – from Poplar, Wisconsin – reportedly shot 40 Japanese aircraft down, more than any other American pilot.

For that, he earned the nickname ‘Ace of Aces’ and significant fame in his homeland.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration in the US military, in 1944.

So, the search for his airplane has been of great importance to the center that bears his name, as well as to Pacific Wrecks, who organized the expedition, and the American people.

Richard Bong wasn’t actually in the plane at the time of the crash, as it was being flown by another pilot called Thomas Malone.

Malone got into some difficulty when the engine failed over the jungle in Papua New Guinea, forcing him to ditch the plane and bail out.

That sent Marge crashing down into the dense jungle below, meaning that any hopes of discovering the wreckage must have seemed slim.

Until now, that is.

Justin Taylan, the director of Pacific Wrecks and the man who has been leading the search, said that they found some wreckage at a site in Papua New Guinea’s Madang Province on May 15.

Around there, the jungle is so dense and deep that you might have a better chance scouring for extra-terrestrial life than looking for a plane – it’s needle in a haystack stuff.

Taylan and the team shared several photos from the jungle with some pieces of twisted metal, one of which is claimed to be a wing tip bearing the number 993.

Those were the last three digits of the plane’s serial number and – if proven – could be the tipping point to proving that the plane was Bong’s.

In another photo, it is confirmed that this wreck is that of a P-38 jet, as another piece of metal is stamped ‘Model P-38 JK’.

The P-38 Lightning wasn’t the fastest, the biggest, or the most expensive piece of equipment ever sold by Lockheed, but it rightly has a special place in aviation history.

Taylan is convinced, claiming in a news conference that they’ve identified the plane ‘definitely, beyond a doubt’.

“I think it’s safe to say mission accomplished,” he said.

“Marge has been identified. It’s a great day for the center, a great day for Pacific Wrecks, a great day for history.”

Richard Bong and Marge eventually married in 1945, before Bong was assigned to work as a test pilot following three tours of the South Pacific.

He was killed when a plane he was testing crashed in Burbank, California, coincidentally on the same day that the US dropped a bomb on Hiroshima in 1945.

Marge was just 21 at the time, but went on to enjoy a career as a model and publisher in Los Angeles before dying in 2003.

Speaking in a news release after the alleged discovery, Richard’s nephew James Bong said: “The Bong family is very excited about this discovery,

“It is amazing and incredible that ‘Marge’ has been found and identified.”


Tom Wood

Tom started his journalism career soon after completing a Masters degree at the University of Salford. Since then, he’s covered a bit of everything – sport, celebrity and world news.