The wreckage of a lost plane may soon be found, bringing closure to a mysterious tale in the history of the United States Air Force.
Shipwreck-hunting divers of the Deeper Dorset group are currently searching along the floor of the English Channel for a USAF C-130 Hercules transport, tail code number 37789.
While plane wrecks aren’t all that uncommon (the channel is littered with aircraft lost during the Second World War, after all), 37789 has a curious twist to how it ended up at the bottom of the English Channel- it was stolen by a homesick mechanic trying to fly home.
In May of 1969, USAF Sergeant Paul Meyer was serving as an aircraft mechanic at RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom, keeping American aircraft ready to go at the height of the Cold War.
Unsatisfied with his current duty station, Meyer missed his wife back in the US -whom he had only married eight weeks before being transferred to the UK- and three adopted children, which led him to drink and stay up long hours- a recipe for disaster that takes a toll on one’s psyche.
Not all was well at home, either. The couple was being sued by his wife’s ex-husband over a share of an insurance payment from a house fire years prior. The kids missed their stepfather and, according to a report from the US Air Force, “Meyer was under considerable stress” and “under constant pressure by his wife, through inference, to return home using any reason necessary.”
To make matters worse, the 23-year-old Sergeant had been passed over for promotion, watching with scorn as those he felt weren’t as deserving managed to climb the career ladder.
On May 22, Meyer and six friends went to a house party, with Meyer getting completely hammered in the process and creating a scene. While his comrades attempted to put him to bed, he eventually escaped and was arrested, eventually being transferred to USAF Security Police.
Sent back to the barracks, he instead stole a pilot’s truck and impersonated an officer, ordering that 37789 be fueled with 60,000 lb of fuel (optimistically enough to reach the US mainland) and prepped for takeoff.
Arriving on the flight line at 4:30 AM on May 23, he seemed sober as he boarded the plane, not drawing too much attention. However, his cover was obviously blown after he started the engines and began taxiing.
Attempting to stop the aircraft, one man tried to stand in the path of the Hercules in order to get Meyer to abort the flight. Security Forces, confused as to whether or not they were allowed to shoot out the aircraft’s tires, ultimately did little to nothing to stop the aircraft.
Eventually, Meyer took off, skirting London’s Heathrow Airport before turning south. Radar last made contact with Meyer’s plane at 6:55 AM, near Alderney.
After that, it was never seen nor heard from again- at least, not in flying condition. A few days after the crash, a life raft and debris were found in the channel. He had kept the plane in the air for 107 minutes.
Incredibly, Meyer was in radio contact with his wife for much of the flight, with his last words being “Leave me alone for five minutes, I’ve got trouble.”
Nobody knows why Meyer crashed. Aside from the fact that he was going in the wrong direction, the USAF never really touched on the matter. While some believe he had lost control or simply fell victim to alcohol and fatigue, some of his colleagues still believe that he was shot down by the USAF or Royal Air Force.
Adding to the mystery, the US Air Force did scramble an F-100 Super Sabre fighter to intercept and “assist Sergeant Meyer,” but, despite radar contact from the ground, the fighter pilot could not find the C-130.
Now, in 2018, members of the Deeper Dorset group believe they have reached a point where they believe they have found the location of Meyer’s lost plane, ready to search five sites where the plane might be, 180-240 feet under the waves.
Adding that it may take up to a year to complete the search, it would be fitting that Meyer’s ill-fated Hercules be found in 2019- 50 years after a homesick man reeking of alcohol took to the skies, never to return.
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