LONDON Work to salvage the sole surviving German Dornier Do-17 bomber plane flown in the Battle of Britain in World War Two began on Friday, more than 70 years after it crashed into the English Channel.
Project managers said the plane, lying 16 metres (52 feet) deep, remains in surprisingly good condition and will be raised using a purpose-built cradle later this month in the biggest recovery of its kind in British waters.
It was first noticed when a fisherman caught his net in the aircraft almost 10 years ago and it was identified as a bomber by divers in 2008.
The plane will be packed in gel and plastic sheeting to shield it from the air before it can be transported to hydration tunnels where the crust created by 70 years underwater will be washed away over the next two years.
Eventually, the bomber will be exhibited in the Royal Air Force Museum in London, the city Adolf Hitler had hoped to bring to its knees, said Peter Dye, the director general of the museum, which is leading the project.
These aircraft were nicknamed the Luftwaffe's "flying pencil" bombers because of their narrow fuselage.
Research by the museum showed the plane was shot down on August 26 1940 during a series of air attacks by the Germans known as the Battle of Britain, the first major campaign fought entirely by air forces.
"Britain remained a focus of defiance when all seemed lost," said Peter Devitt, historian and curator at the RAF museum.
"It won this extraordinary, very narrow victory at the Battle of Britain and from there could be used as a springboard to defeat the German forces and liberate Europe."
The cost of saving the Dornier Do-17 could reach 600,000 pounds, Devitt said, adding the museum is confident of raising the necessary funds.
European defence giant EADS sponsored part of the project but the biggest donation came from the UK National Heritage Memorial Fund which donated 345,000 pounds.
The museum's research found it was unclear whether the plane was brought down by British or stray German fire and efforts to reach relatives of the four German soldiers in their early twenties flying the plane have been fruitless.
(Reporting By Shadia Nasralla, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)