On May 23, 1969, Sgt. Paul Meyer stole a four-engine Hercules C-130 and took off from a U.S. Air Force base in Mildenhall, England.
Aiming for Langley, Virginia, Meyer’s plane disappeared from radar shortly after takeoff and went down over the English Channel. Nearly 50 years later, even Meyer’s stepson doesn’t know whether the Hercules was shot down or crashed due to pilot error.
Now a small group of divers from Southern England wants to solve the mystery.
Deeper Dorset is a group of self-proclaimed wreck hunters with a combined 50-plus years of diving and wreck investigation experience.
The group’s founder, Grahame Knott, specializes in side scan sonar operations and has extensive experience working in the English Channel.
With the Meyer family’s approval, Deeper Dorset has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a year-long project to find the plane’s crash site and document any remains.
According to the Kickstarter page, the team will use cutting-edge 3D photogrammetry technology to build detailed models of the underwater wreckage, with the goal of uncovering the truth of what happened to Meyer.
“I’m sure plenty of people will think we’re a crazy bunch of Brits chasing ghosts, but .... well, they’re probably right. But speaking to Paul’s stepson Henry really hits home that there’s a family still waiting to hear what happened to their loved one, and if we can do anything to help, then surely it’s the right thing to do,” Paul Smith, who works with Knott at Deeper Dorset, told Air Force Times.
Meyer was a chief mechanic in the Air Force who had previously served in Vietnam, according to the Kickstarter project description.
At the time of the Hercules incident, he was stationed in the U.K. and was due to return home to Virginia in a month.
Depressed and homesick, Meyer requested early leave from his superior officers but was denied.
After a long night of drinking on May 23, he mounted a daring escape plan.
Posing as a captain, he ordered a Hercules C-130 be refueled and took off into the skies, effectively evading efforts to stop his flight. Meyer had a private pilot’s license but was in no way qualified to fly a four-engine military cargo plane, as the Kickstarter page notes.
After a successful takeoff, Meyer plotted a course to Langley and made radio contact with his wife, Jane.
But somewhere over the English Channel, radar contact with the Hercules was lost.
According to the official report on the incident, eyewitnesses saw the plane fall out of the sky and explode upon hitting water. The report concluded that Meyer was likely dead, but it did not provide an explanation for the crash.
The Deeper Dorset team believes the remains of the Hercules will unlock the mystery and provide truth and closure for Meyer’s family and world history.
So far, the team has raised nearly $2,700 toward its $8,450 goal. The team plans to start sonar scans of the seabed later this year.