NEW YORK (FOX 5 NY) - It's an historic discovery. Bulletproof glass from the front window of a P-47 aircraft found on the bottom of the Long Island Sound.
Six years ago Diver Kirby Kurkomelis was searching the Sound for the remains of two airmen who crashed in a military training plane back in 1947. That's when he inadvertently found the wreck of the sole Thunderbolt prototype. The pioneer aircraft was said to be the most produced and fiercest war bird of World War II.
“Like everything, if you look for things, you’ll find things in the water,” Kurkomelis said. “I find it, I document it, I do the research and after we do the research and we feel comfortable and we have enough evidence to say what this is, then we go public.”
The plane designed and built at Republic Airport in Farmingdale crashed over 75 years ago. The pilot managed to make it out alive. Curator Josh Stoff with the Cradle of Aviation Museum says Kurkomelis' findings are relevant to Long Island's rich history in aviation.
“It was the granddaddy of all P47s,” Stoff said. “The first one built and there were over 15,000 after that and it was different from the ones that followed so that's how we know the wreckage he located is this very first aircraft.”
Captain Kirby and his team managed to recover about a dozen artifacts, many of them found in the structure of the plane itself. Preserving them isn't easy. They have to be soaked in freshwater for over a year and that water has to be changed every day.
“This is part of the canopy that closed the plane,” Kurkomelis. “This is the lens from the gun site, has a key to lock into place and the pilot would have to lean forward to drop his coordinates. Of course, the foot pedal these control the rear wings and there are two.”
The waters off New York and Long Island are filled with shipwrecks dating back as far as 1600 including China from the steamship Oregon which sank in 1886 and ammo from pre-WWI. Diving has become a hobby and a way of life for Captain Kirby who isn't slowing down anytime soon.