Divers for Life
For Grahame Knott and a group of divers, diving was life. Known as “wreck divers,” Knott and his friends were always on the hunt for new treasure at the bottom of the ocean. In fact, they had spent the last ten years searching for one wreck in particular at the bottom of the English Channel.
Searching for a Wreck
On the last day of the diving season in November of 2018, Knott and his diving friends would discover something on their sonar. With their undercover camera revealing what looked like to be the remains of the wheel was it possible they had finally found the wreck they had been searching for?
The truth is absolutely amazing.
Wreck Diving in the English Channel
Known for being a popular place for wreck diving, the English Channel is an area of the sea that lies between England and France. The channel is quite narrow and is only 21-miles across at some of its more narrower points.
Searching for Treasure
Although the channel is quite cold and most divers prefer warmer waters in the Red Sea or the Caribbean, the treasures that can be found in the English Channel can’t be beaten. Why? Well, due to the many wars in the area, sunken vessels are quite common in the channel.
Unlike the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, the waters of the channel are pretty murky. There is also a risk due to it being the world’s busiest commercial shipping lane. Thankfully, the abundance of wrecks makes it worth all the trouble.
Due to the many sea battles that took place in the English Channel, the treasure that can be found is endless. From sunken plans to warships and tanks, the two world wars left plenty behind in its wake. And for divers like Knott and his crew, they were ripe for the taking.
Years of Success
Knott and his group the Deeper Dorset had had great success throughout the years searching for wrecks. In the 1990’s they discovered the wreck of the Aracan, a trade ship that had made trips between India and China. An amazing find, the ship had sunk in around 180-feet of water when it collided with another ship in 1874. Can you imagine how incredible that would be to explore?
The Wreckage of the Miniota
Another ship that Knott and crew discovered was the wreckage of the Miniota, a cargo ship that had been sunk by a German submarine. The sunken vessel was filled with silver bullion and Knott had the opportunity to be the first diver to reveal the ship’s location.
Ten Years of Devotion
Despite these amazing finds, there was one wreck that had alluded Knott and his friends for ten years. It wasn’t a ship or a plane from the wars, but a 37-ton Lockheed C-130, a transport plan that had gone missing over the English Channel in 1969.
Why was this plane so important? You’ll see.
The History Behind the Aircraft
The missing plane is well known in aviation circles and it all traces back to 1969. During this time, American U.S. Air Force mechanic, Sergeant Paul Meyer was working in Suffolk, England at RAF Mildenhall.
Serving in Vietnam
Prior to serving as a mechanic in England, Meyer toured Vietnam. While not much is known about his time in the country, he was known to drink heavily and suffer from PTSD according to those he served with at the base England. And with the horrors that took place in Vietnam, you can’t blame him for trying to self-medicate.
Another cause of stress for Meyer was he had been recently married prior to being deployed. His wife, Jane and his stepchildren were back in the states, and according to an official report, he was under “considerable emotional stress.” According to other documents, Meyer was furious for being passed over for a promotion. Let’s just say his state of mind was not where it should have been.
A Friend Nearby
Ralph Howard Vincent was a young sergeant serving at RAF Lakenheath, which wasn’t far from where Meyer was stationed. He remembers Meyer very well and that he wasn’t in the best state during that time due to outside stress triggers.
A Night at the Pub
According to Vincent, he first met Meyer in a pub where he was in a completely drunken state. He was sprawled out over a table and wasn’t able to respond to Vincent when he asked him to get off the furniture and sit like a proper gentleman.
Another Round of Drinks
Despite being too drunk to function, Meyer became alert when another round of drinks came by. Vincent remembers Meyer stating he would sit at the table if he bought him a drink. This would be the beginning of a very close friendship between the two men.
The Desire to Return Home
Vincent remembers vividly that Meyer wanted to fly back to the United States on leave. “He came up with a proposition,” Vincent remembered. “He said he wanted to get a private pilot’s license so that he could fly home on leave… And he wanted to split the cost 50:50 with me.”
The Last Time Together
After a particularly long night at the pub, Vincent and Meyer went their separate ways like they usually did. However, Vincent never saw him again. Meyer has requested to be transferred to the Air Force Base in Langley, Virginia which was ultimately denied. This would set off an unfortunate chain of events.
The Night of May 22, 1969
One evening, Meyer got drunk to the point of being almost violent. His friends wrestled him into bed but he immediately snuck out the window. He would later be found by police rambling and stumbling down the road. However, instead of being taken to jail, he was brought back to the base. This would be a grave mistake.
A Desperate Plan
Not thinking straight, Meyer concocted a plan to fly home. He broke into the room of Captain Upton and stole the keys to his truck. Making up a fake name, he called the crew in charge of dispatching planes and placed an order for one with enough fuel to get to the United States.
You won’t believe what happens next.
A Specific Order
Meyer was very specific in the plane he wanted, a Hercules C-130. He demanded the plane be ready for take-off when he arrived and the staff obeyed, not thinking twice that they were being lied to. With the plane fueled and ready to go, Meyer had his opportunity to get home. However, there was one problem…
Meyer had NO official pilot training. While he had been around pilots, he had never flown a plane on his own before. However, this didn’t stop him. He guided the plane down the runway and took off into the air. This would end up being a VERY bad decision.
Calling His Wife
After guiding the plane into the English morning sky, Meyer’s managed to hook up the radio system so he could call home. When he told his wife he was on his way home, she was shocked. Jane knew her husband couldn’t fly a plane and immediately became quite panicked.
His Last Words
The last words that Jane remembers from her husband were “Babe, I’ve got some trouble. I’ll call you back in five.” After their call, the plane crashed into the English Channel. Meyer’s body was never found, despite some wreckage washing up on shore.
Controversy Surrounding His Death
According to Jane, she could never get a direct answer as to why her husband managed to get a plane in the air and then subsequently crash it. “Why did he crash like that? You know, the U.S. Air Force never told me he’d crashed. No one told me he’d crashed. I just got a telegram to say the plane was lost,” Jane told the BBC. “I’m sure I’ve not been told the whole truth.”
While there were many rumors as to what happened to the plane, some believed it was shot down for containing sensitive documents on board, for Grahame Knott it doesn’t matter. Regardless of WHY it crashed, he was determined to find the wreckage.
Why THIS Plane?
When speaking with the BBC, Knott revealed his obsession with the plane wreck was quite simple. “Honestly, I ask myself that question all the time, and I just keep coming back to the image of young Meyer up there in that plane, completely alone, and I guess I’m just doing it for him. He was just a kid, you know? Just a homesick kid.”
Ten Years of Searching
Due to the lack of hi-tech equipment and a minimal budget, Knott and his diving buddies could only spend so much time out on the English Channel. They were also limited in their resources, so detecting any signs of the wreckage was more difficult than if they had a $100,000 research vessel.
A Frigid November Day
Therefore, it was a chilly November day in 2018 when Knott’s sonar picked up something on the bottom of the channel. Dropping their camera in the water, they first noticed a large wheel sticking out of the sand. This was followed by a section of a wing with rivets. Could they have really found the missing plane?
An Amazing Find
Knott and his team were stunned. They had finally found the missing Hercules. While many hope that this might finally provide answers to what happened to Meyers, for Knott the wreckage must be honored. “It’s not like a typical boat wreck. It’s more like a sacred site, especially since Meyer’s family are still alive,” he told the local media.
He Just Wanted to Come Home
After hearing about the discovery of the wreckage, Jane revealed it did bring her some comfort to know his final resting place. However, it doesn’t change the fact her husband died needlessly. “He was having bad nightmares about Vietnam,” Jane told the BBC. “We wrote to each other every day, and we marked the days off a calendar. You know, he just wanted to come home. All he wanted was to come home.”