A Kittyhawk P-40 that crashed in the Sahara desert on June 28, 1942 has been found in remarkably good condition by Polish oil company employee Jakub Perka. Perka was exploring the desert west of the Nile 200 miles from the nearest city when he found the downed plane. It was damaged from the crash landing and bears scars from flak encounters, but other than that, the single-seater fighter plane appears to have been frozen in time by the desert heat.
The identification plates were undamaged, so military historians were able to identify it as a Royal Air Force plane piloted by Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping. Copping was part of the RAF’s 260 Squadron fighting German General Erwin Rommel’s forces’ advance towards Egypt. On June 28th, Copping was ordered to fly a damaged but functioning Kittyhawk to another airbase in Egypt for repairs. He went off course and was neither seen nor heard from again.
Military historians are confident the Kittyhawk found in the desert was the one flown by Ft Sgt Copping, based on identification numbers and letters on the plane.
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.
According to experts, a plane making a controlled crash landing in the desert wouldn’t have its landing gear down and would belly-flop on the sand.
There is also flak damage in the fuselage, which is also consistent with documented evidence of Ft Sgt Copping’s plane.
No human remains were discovered at the crash site. There is evidence that the pilot survived and tried to make a shelter from the baking sun out of his parachute. The radio and battery were also removed from the airplane, suggesting the pilot tried to get it in working order so he could send out an SOS. Had he died in the crash or while working nearby, his body would have been found, so he probably starting walking as a last resort. His remains could be anywhere within a 20 mile radius. The British Ministry of Defense plans to search the area, but the odds of finding Flight Sergeant Copping are very slim.
Meanwhile, after 70 years of untouched rest, the wreck itself is now in danger. The Egyptian military has removed all the weapons and bullets for safety reasons, but the real danger is locals peeling parts off to sell as scrap. The wreck is close to a smuggling route between Sudan and Libya, and now that the word is out that the plane is there, some people have taken detours to strip pieces of it.
The Ministry of Defense is working with the RAF Museum to recover the plane. Because of the location of the wreck, the search and recovery teams will need to be escorted by the Egyptian army. Coordination is a challenge, to say the least, and the clock is ticking.