Part of WWII-era plane washes ashore in Ponte Vedra Beach

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – After the nor’easter last week, part of a Navy plane dating back to World War II washed in South Ponte Vedra Beach.

According to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, the piece of aviation history was taken to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum to study and store until the U.S. Navy is ready to collect the piece.

The archaeologists at the lighthouse, working with the Northrop Grumman Naval History and Heritage Command, believe it is from a Grumman F4F Wildcat that possibly went down in the ocean in the 1940s.

“We are excited to learn more from this extraordinary discovery!” the lighthouse posted on Facebook.

✈️ Update! The plane has "landed" onsite ✈️ Our team believes this artifact is a WWII era Grumman F4F Wildcat. We are...

Posted by Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program on Thursday, October 1, 2020

Although it’s the same type of aircraft, it’s not the same plane that we reported last December went down in the St. Johns River. That wreckage is still being studied.

Chuck Meide, director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Maritime Museum Archaeology program, said the program is working with the Navy to come up with a plan to preserve the World War II-era artifact.

“This is probably a piece that may have been, at some point was partially buried, and perhaps the hurricanes or definitely the recent nor’easter would have finally freed it from the sea floor and allowed it ... to come ashore," Meide said.

The process requires delicate care, especially since the wreckage could mark the site of a war grave.

Adding to the challenge is a build-up of hardened sediment on the plane’s remains. Another complication is the mixture of materials found such as aluminum and steel, said Andrew Thomson, the museum’s archaeological conservator. Thomson said the trick is treating one kind of material without destroying another.

“As we’re removing it, we have to be careful so we’re not damaging the material and also if there’s any numbers or dates that’s hidden underneath there,” Thomson said.

The wreckage offers lots of questions and fires the imagination. That’s something to which Bob Buehn, a retired Navy aviator and chairman of the lighthouse’s board of directors, can relate.

Buehn and Meide say there’s a mystery to uncover.

“It would be great to know the story of the of this aircraft and how it got there,” Buehn said. “It’s a history book lying there waiting to be opened.”

The wreckage belongs to the Navy, which has asked the Lighthouse Museum to hold on to the findings and store them until the Navy determines what to do with them.

Coincidentally, the museum just opened a World War II exhibit and it would like to see if the plane could stay permanently.

About the Authors: