The remains of an Italian WWII pilot who died in a dogfight with U.S. pilots 70 years ago have finally been unearthed -- still sitting on the parachute in the cockpit.
Found 13 feet underground with the wreckage of his crashed plane, a Macchi C.205 Veltro, the pilot was identified as being Lieutenant Guerrino Bortolani. His plane literately disappeared in the Padua countryside in northern Italy, planting itself deep in the bank of a ditch as it crashed on March 11, 1944.
"The crash site is now a corn field. We were able to find the remains with the help of an elderly man, who on that day witnessed the fighter going into a nosedive and hit the ground," Alessandro Voltolina, of the Romagna Air Finders, a group of wreck hunters from Ravenna, told Discovery News.
Bortolani, who died at 27, belonged to the 1st Fighter Groups, squadron "Asso di Bastoni" (Ace of Clubs), which was commanded by the Italian ace of aces Adriano Visconti.
Bortolani flew on a Macchi C.205, regarded as the best Italian aircraft of World War II, as part of his "Ace of Clubs" group.
"It was an excellent fighter aircraft, extremely effective in action and well armed with two 12.7 mm machine guns and a pair of 20 mm cannons," Agostino Alberti, of another group, the Air Crash Po wreck hunters from Cremona, told Discovery News.
But on March 11, 1944 the Macchi C.205 fighters couldn't really combat the massive attack of the Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Force (MASAF) which sent 111 B-17 "Flying Fortress" planes to drop more than 300 tons of bombs on Padua.
Italian and German fighters responded to the attack, and although their action was described as "aggressive" by the allied forces, they succumbed. The Germans lost five planes and three pilots; the Italians lost four aircraft and three pilots.
As well as Lt. Bortolani, Lt Giovan Battista Boscutti was shot down and crashed in the Padua countryside. Lt. Bruno Castellani plunged in the sea off Chioggia, near Venice, while Lt. Andrea Stella managed to make an emergency landing and survived.
"In 2006 we recovered the remains of Lt Boscutti, along with pieces of his crashed Macchi. Obviously, the next goal was the recovery of Lt. Bortolani," Voltolina said.
"It has been a long and complex search, but now this pilot can be finally given a proper burial," he said
The excavation revealed many pieces of the plane, such as the main landing gear wheel, the tail wheel, pieces of the engine, the control stick, the pedals and parts of fuselage.
"Then we saw what everybody hoped to find. The parachute was still closed, and the remains of the pilot were still sitting on it. We aso found the ring he was wearing, which he received at the fighter pilot academy," Voltolina said.
Bortolani will be finally given a burial in the next months, as soon as his closest relatives are found.