Aircraft Crash Sites at Sea

Wessex Archaeology, 2008

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Wessex Archaeology (2008) Aircraft Crash Sites at Sea [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]

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Project Overview

Thousands of aircraft are likely to have been lost in UK territorial and near-territorial waters during the 20th century. A very high proportion of these were combat or accidental losses of military aircraft that occurred during WWII. There are therefore likely to be a very large number of aircraft wrecks on the seabed.

However, the number of known aircraft crash sites on the seabed recorded by the National Monuments Record and the local Historic Environment Records is relatively small. Although there is uncertainty about how well aircraft wrecks are likely to survive on the seabed, this means that a large number of currently unknown crash sites may be on the seabed.

The project has identified the need to know more about how well aircraft survive crashes or ditchings at sea and how well they subsequently survive on the seabed. The examples examined by the project, including the Pembroke Dock Sunderland Flying Boat and the recently found Harlech P-38, suggest that there is potential for aircraft to survive in a better condition on the seabed or perhaps in intertidal areas than those that have crashed on dry land.

The project has also established that more needs to be done to enable heritage curators such as English Heritage to decide what is important and what is not. This will help channel the right resources into the study of the right crash sites. It will also help curators decide what needs to be protected and what does not. The recommendation of the project is that the research agenda and guidance for aviation archaeology already compiled by English Heritage through its Monuments Protection Programme should be updated and expanded. The research agenda that comes from this process should be compiled with as wide an input as possible to ensure that a workable strategy emerges. Consultees will probably include heritage curators, foreign governments, aviation researchers, veterans organisations, the marine industries and recreational interests such as scuba divers.

The digital archive

The digital archive currently consists of the following resources:

  • Wessex Archaeology, 2008: Aircraft Crash Sites at Sea: A Scoping Study. Archaeological Desk-based Assessment. Unpublished Report. Ref: 66641.02
  • Wessex Archaeology, 2008: BMAPA/EH Draft Interim Guidance on the use of the protocol for Reporting Finds of Archaeological Interest in Relation to Aircraft Crash Sites at Sea. Unpublished report.

Non-digital Archive and Publications

In addition to the reports contained within the digital archive the project also produced the following outputs:

Meetings / Technical Forums
ALSF Technical Conference March 200
IKUWA July 2008
Press Release
Heritage Link Update 124 19/10/07 'New study of plane crash sites: information requested'
The News (Central South) 09/10/2007 page 11, 'Details of military air crashes sought'
Portsmouth and Southsea Journal 11/10/2007 page 22 'Hunt for details of plane crashes'
Divernet (online) 26/10/2007 'Aircraft sites: Information wanted'
Britain at War Magazine 12/07 page4 'Lost at Sea: New study to Investigate aircraft crash sites at sea'
East Anglian Daily Times 05/12/2007 page 18 'Seabed search plots wrecks from war'
Diver Magazine 12/07 page 18 'Aircraft Wrecks - Share your knowledge'
Radio / TV Interview
BBC Orkney Radio Interview
Blog and podcasts on

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