JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Rough surf along Northeast Florida's coast -- thanks to Hurricanes Irma and then Maria -- is credited with helping wash ashore pieces of military history.
News4Jax obtained some incredible photos of what the Canadian military and the family of a fallen pilot thought was gone forever.
The 1958 crash off Mayport
Veterans Affairs Canada lists Feb. 25, 1958, as the day when Lt. William Thomas Barry Troy, a pilot in the Royal Canadian Navy, was lost at sea off Mayport, Florida.
It says the 29-year-old was flying an F2H-3 Banshee from Shearwater British Columbia to Jacksonville to train with the U.S. military, but he was reported overdue. A search by the U.S. Navy confirmed the downed aircraft when some floating debris was located.
Lt. Troy was never found, and reports say very little wreckage -- only the pilot's helmet and a wheel from the McDonnell fighter jet -- was recovered at the time.
Park ranger makes historic discovery
Fifty-nine years after that Canadian fighter jet crash, a park ranger made a historic discovery at Hanna Park.
"We happened to find this ball of stuff on the high water line. I know I drove past it at least five times. Other rangers say they drove past it, too," ranger Zack Johnson said.
Having Navy experience himself, Johnson knew the mysterious items that washed up were significant to the military.
”I knew I had found something special when I found the lieutenant's stencil on the back of the float coat,” Johnson said.
The items found Sept. 22 included unidentified pieces of metal and something Johnson recognized right away.
"(Johnson) found some debris that looks like a parachute," Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Lt. Steve Mullen said.
"It looks like the parachute was never deployed when it went in the water," Johnson added. "I believe it sat with the wreckage for a while before being washed loose. The speculation is that it was probably deposited in the dunes during (Hurricane) Dora, and sat there in the sand since then, until being uncovered by the erosion of the last storm.”
Johnson worked together with the Sheriff's Office to figure out where the items came from and where they belonged.
They documented mystery pieces included a life vest with the printed letters "USN" on it as well as items with serial numbers that can still be read.
Another notable find was a parachute harness.
That harness has "LT (P) TROY" embroidered on it. Those are the initials for Lt. William Thomas Barry Troy, the Royal Canadian Navy pilot lost at sea off Mayport in 1958.
"These are war remains. These are remains of a pilot that he was wearing when he went down," Johnson said. "If I was a family member, I would be thrilled to know people are still interested after 50 years. It would warm my heart as well."
”I think it’s incredible for his grandchildren," Mullen added. "It would be unique to have something as a memory piece, and it’s amazing."
News4Jax spoke with Troy's brother, who was 21 years old when the tragedy happened. He told us he had not heard about the discovery at Hanna Park until we called, and said hearing about it was a very special moment for him.
Even though it's been 59 years since the deadly military crash, he said, the family thinks about the tragedy all the time.
News4Jax put him in contact with the Sheriff's Office and, hopefully, once the issue has been worked out with the Canadian military and the Department of Defense, some of these treasures can be given to Troy's family.
Johnson believes there are more pieces out there. In fact, he found what he believes is a piece of the actual aircraft. He thinks the sunken jet is not far off the coast of Hanna Park.
Anyone who finds any items washed ashore, is asked to contact park rangers at Hanna Park or the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
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