Explorers Discover The Wreckage Of World War 2 Ace Richard Bong’s Plane ‘Marge’ In A Papua New Guinea Jungle

Published May 24, 2024

The fighter plane, nicknamed "Marge" after Richard Bong's girlfriend, crashed into the jungle of Papua New Guinea in March 1944 after its engine failed.

Richard Bong Plane

Public DomainRichard Bong in the cockpit of his P-38 Lightning fighter plane.

With aid from historical records and local residents, explorers from the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior, Wisconsin, and the nonprofit World War II historical preservation group Pacific Wrecks found the remains of flying ace Richard “Dick” Bong’s Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter plane in the Madang Province of Papua New Guinea on May 15, 2024.

Family, friends, and scholars of Richard Bong, the most successful American fighter pilot in World War II, are ecstatic at the discovery and hope that it rekindles interest in his legacy.

Explorers Discover Richard Bong’s Plane

Earlier this month, explorers set out into the jungle of Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific to search for the wreckage of World War II ace Richard Bong’s plane.

The team was made up of members from both the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior, Wisconsin, and the nonprofit World War II historical preservation group Pacific Wrecks. The two organizations announced in March that they were undertaking the search for Bong’s Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter, which Bong nicknamed “Marge” after his girlfriend, Marjorie Vattendahl.

In 1944, pilot Thomas Malone was flying the plane over Papua New Guinea when he experienced engine failure and came crashing down into the jungle. Malone was able to bail, but Marge was lost — until now.

Crew Posing With Plane

Justin Taylan/Pacific WrecksThe crew poses with a piece of Richard Bong’s plane.

The explorers began the search by researching historical records of the crash. Many of the sources suggested that the plane went down over a 150-year-old plantation. Local residents also confirmed the existence of the plane crash several times.

With this information, Pacific Wrecks director Justin Taylan and the rest of the crew set out into the jungle to find the wreckage. On May 15, the team announced that they had successfully located the plane in a ravine in Papua New Guinea’s Madang Province.

At the top of the ravine, the crew discovered two aircraft engines embedded in the ground. Evidence at the site suggested the plane had nose dived into the jungle. Amazingly, Marge’s signature red paint was still visible.

Taylan took several photos of the plane, showing off portions of its serial number and a piece of metal stamped with “Model P-38 JK.”

“I think it’s safe to say mission accomplished,” Taylan said in a press conference, as reported by the Associated Press. “Marge has been identified. It’s a great day for the center, a great day for Pacific Wrecks, a great day for history.”

Who Was World War II Ace Richard Bong?

Richard Bong was the top American fighter pilot of World War II. Bong knew from the time he was a young boy that he wanted to fly airplanes.

During the war, Bong shot down 40 Japanese planes — at least three of them while flying Marge — and earned the Medal of Honor in 1944 from General Douglas MacArthur. He holds the record for most planes shot down by an American pilot in World War II.

In January 1945, after three combat tours in the South Pacific, Bong returned to the United States, and he married the real Marge that February. Back in America, he was assigned to a test pilot station in Burbank, California. Unfortunately, he died in a plane crash during a test flight on Aug. 6, 1945, the same day the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Now, nearly 80 years after his death, this recent discovery is honoring Bong’s legacy and shining a light on his name once again.

Plane Serial Number

Joel Carillet/Pacific WrecksPart of Marge’s serial number was still visible.

“This discovery not only honors Richard Bong’s memory, but also serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by all those who served during World War II,” Briana Fiandt, curator at the Bong Center, told Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR). “It is a tribute to their courage, their service and their enduring impact on our nation’s history.”

Currently, the plane is set to remain in Papua New Guinea. Given how long it has been in the territory, the wreckage legally belongs to the country’s national museum and art gallery.

And although Bong’s relatives hope that one day the plane will return to the United States, they are still happy about the discovery. “It’s great to know that it’s been discovered,” Jerry Fechtelkotter, Bong’s 99-year-old sister, told WPR.

After reading about the discovery of Richard Bong’s plane, dive into the story of Eddie Rickenbacker, the flying ace of World War I. Then, read the true story of the Red Baron, the best fighter pilot in World War I.

Amber Morgan
Amber Morgan is an Editorial Fellow for All That's Interesting. She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in political science, history, and Russian. Previously, she worked as a content creator for America House Kyiv, a Ukrainian organization focused on inspiring and engaging youth through cultural exchanges.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.
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Morgan, Amber. "Explorers Discover The Wreckage Of World War 2 Ace Richard Bong’s Plane ‘Marge’ In A Papua New Guinea Jungle." AllThatsInteresting.com, May 24, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/richard-bong-plane. Accessed June 21, 2024.