The discovery of the B-17F Black Jack wreck reads like something out of an adventure novel, with three Australians – Rod Pierce, Bruce Johnson & David Pennefather, stumbling on the wreck almost by accident in late December 1986.
Pennefather, an ex-Kiap who spent most of his adult life in PNG and developed a strong interest in WWII wrecks, had visited the Cape Vogel area earlier in 1986 where he heard from the villagers of Bogo Boga that a plane had crashed near their reef in WWII.
He subsequently organized a Christmas dive trip with Rod Pierce & Bruce Johnson to try and find what they believed to be was an Australian Beaufort A9.
Rod Pierce is the (now retired) owner of the MV Barbarian, a small liveaboard dive boat that is synonymous with wreck diving in Papua New Guinea and Bruce Johnson was a commercial pilot.
The villagers of Boga Boga guided the three divers to the general location where the plane had gone down and when they entered the water the game plan was to spread out and cover as much area as possible to try and find it.
It was Rod Pearce who found the wreck first, spotting the large tail-plane as he conducted his search. One can only imagine the sheer exhilaration he must have felt when he first saw the B17 Flying Fortress sat there on the sand in almost perfect condition!
For someone who has basically dedicated his life to wreck diving in Papua New Guinea it must have been like finding the Holy Grail…
Over the next few days they dived the wreck as much as it’s depth of nearly 50m would allow, entering the inside of the plane and finding the Radio Call Plate with the 24521 serial number on it, which later allowed them to positively identify it as the famous Black Jack.
Bruce Johnson also managed to satisfy his intense desire to reach the cockpit, which meant finding his way through the dark bomb bay and many dangling control cables, to become the first person in over 40 years to sit in the pilot’s chair.