By Nick Wilson - The Tribune
During World War II, a British warplane flying off the coast of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea had engine trouble and made an emergency ocean landing.
Its pilot and co-pilot were rescued by two Englishmen on leave who happened to be sailing that day, but the plane sank. Seventy-four years later, in June, Cal Poly students who are part of an underwater search and mapping project helped find the missing plane.
Their 6-foot robot, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), used sonar, photography and video technology in its search.
“We’re confident that we found a plane that was documented to have crashed three miles off the coast of Malta,” said Zoe Wood, a Cal Poly computer science professor who has been co-leading the expedition with Harvey Mudd College engineering professor Christopher Clark.
“It matches up with the record of the same type of plane going down about three miles off the coast near the city of Sliema.” They found the Fairey Swordfish at a depth of about 60 meters.
The biplane torpedo bomber was used by England’s Royal Navy in World War II, as well as the 1930s.
Nearly 2,400 Fairey Swordfish aircraft were built between 1936 and 1944 and sank more tonnage of enemy warcraft than any other Allied plane during World War II.
Malta, a picturesque island located 50 miles south of Sicily, is a graveyard of ancient sunken vessels. There are nine surviving Swordfish. Just a handful can be flown.
“We had a feeling of joy to have helped discover a site of a historically significant plane,” Wood said. Divers with the University of Malta marine archeology department have examined the historic aircraft, which has decayed to a skeleton and is now part of an ecosystem for baby fish and crustaceans.
Given that, the plane will be left where it is.