KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- For nearly 70 years since the Lancaster ED 427 was shot down over Germany, British authorities have considered the bomber and its crew lost.
The location of the four-engine plane's wreckage, however, was always known -- just not by the right people.
German researcher Uwe Benkel will lead an excavation to recover the Lancaster and, it's hoped, the plane's seven-member crew Saturday morning from a field outside Laumersheim, 10 miles west of Mannheim. If successful, the dig will put to rest a decades-old mystery.
According to Benkel, a teenager watched the flaming Lancaster plunge into the ground in mid-April 1943. The ground was swampy and little of the plane was visible when the teen, Peter Menges, went to inspect it a day later.
Menges later learned he wasn't the only one who visited the crash site, Benkel said.
After retiring, Menges began looking into the crash. During that investigation, he learned a day after the crash, German troops carried away two coffins purported to contain the shattered remains of the seven airmen, and buried the coffins in a Mannheim cemetery.
"When the war ended ... the British military came and they opened the coffins to see what's in there," Benkel said, "and both of the coffins, they were empty."
From that point, the British considered ED 427 and its crew to be lost.
Menges found this out after requesting old records from a British archive, and lined up the records of the missing ED 427 with his own memory.
He reached out to Benkel, who has helped in the recovery of more than 100 planes. Since then they've used ground penetrating radar to confirm the crash site, and recovered bone fragments and other crash debris.
"The whole area is spread full of parts of the aircraft," Benkel said.
He's certain, he said, that the site is the resting place of ED 427.
Benkel said he's in contact with relatives of the deceased airmen, including the brother of the pilot, Flight Officer Alexander Bone. "They are looking forward ... to see what we can find to bring the missing back home," he said.