A rare Second World War plane is being salvaged from the Solent to help historians build the world’s only existing model.
The plane, a Fairey Barracuda bomber, was discovered by divers during surveys for The National Grid’s IFA2 interconnector project.
The bomber, a model used on carriers in the Middle East during the war, is believed to have crashed shortly after take-off on a test flight from HMS Daedalus airfield in September 1943, with the pilot bailing out.
Wessex Archaeology is working with James Fisher Marine Services to painstakingly lift the plane piece by piece from the seabed, using a team of divers to examine each section before it is lifted by crane.
Ben Saunders, senior archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology, said some dials and instruments in the plane would need to be placed in special containers and sent back to the depths – as they had been treated with radium-based paint to ensure they glowed during night time operations.
He said: ‘The plane essentially belly-flopped into the water.
‘This means it's relatively intact, but it has become submerged in sediment.’
The curator of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum, David Morris, described the find as like discovering ‘the lid of the jigsaw box,’ aiding their 40-year effort to build a replica model – as none of the 2,500 aircraft produced survive today.
He said: ‘It is hugely important.
‘Along with our other aircraft we have the largest collection of Fairey aircraft in the world, but the one missing from the set is the Fairey Barracuda – none exist anywhere in the world, and we’re working on a project to put one together using crash wreckage.
‘It’s been a big long slow jigsaw puzzle to graft those pieces together.
‘This is the first model we have found that hasn’t had catastrophic damage.’
Salvaged parts will go towards the museum’s project, started in 1971 with parts , with the team hoping to have a complete model within the next seven years.
The excavation work will allow a crane barge to begin laying six cables for the IFA2 interconnector project, which will see UK energy suppliers access energy grids across Europe, later in the month.