Dorset

English Channel hunt due for wreck of stolen Hercules

Sgt Paul Meyer Image copyright Deeper Dorset
Image caption Sgt Paul Meyer was believed to be wanting to get home to his wife when he stole the transporter aircraft

Divers are set to hunt for the wreck of a US transporter plane that ditched in the English Channel after being stolen by a military mechanic.

Sgt Paul Meyer took the Hercules C-130E transporter from Mildenhall, Suffolk, in a bid to fly home to his wife Jane in Virginia in May 1969.

It disappeared from radar in the middle of the English Channel, as Sgt Meyer flew it after a night of drinking.

The Deeper Dorset group is to use sonar gear to search for the crash site.

The official record of the crash recounted how after the heavy drinking session, Sgt Meyer, 23, escaped police custody, impersonated a captain and ordered the Hercules to be re-fuelled before taking to the skies.

It described his action as a "highly irrational act" and said he was "under considerable emotional stress".

'So gratified'

The mechanic who had previously served in Vietnam, had been refused leave shortly beforehand.

Image copyright Deeper Dorset
Image caption The official investigation into the crash found Sgt Meyer was "under considerable emotional stress"

His stepson Henry, who was seven at the time of the crash, said he remembered Sgt Meyer as a "genuinely good young man".

He said he had been keen to return home to help Henry's mother in a custody battle.

"Paul was a patriot and loved his country - it seems he just loved his family more," he said.

"This may or may not find an answer to what happened, but we are so gratified and it'll give our family some closure. It means so much that people haven't forgotten Paul."

Simon Brown, of Deeper Dorset, said the group had studied official records, as well as tidal movements and weather conditions to identify the crash site.

He said they had "five good targets" within 10 square miles of seabed mid-channel, about 30 miles off Portland Bill.

Image copyright Henry Meyer
Image caption Henry Meyer regularly visits a memorial with his stepfather's name

Mr Brown admitted finding definitive proof of what happened to Sgt Meyer would be "very, very difficult".

"He did a fantastic job to get a complex plane off the runway - to fly solo is quite an amazing feat.

"Whether he flew into cloud and got disorientated, or was shot down, we're not discounting anything."

The group has launched a crowdfunding appeal for £6,000 and aims to start sonar scans of the seabed later in the year.

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