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He was hundreds of miles from civilisation, lost in the burning heat of the desert.
Second World War Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping took what little he could from the RAF Kittyhawk he had just crash-landed, then wandered into the emptiness.
From that day in June 1942 the mystery of what happened to the dentist’s son from Southend was lost, in every sense, in the sands of time.
But 70 years later, the ghostly remains of his battered but almost perfectly preserved plane has been discovered.
Like a time capsule that could provide the key to his disappearance, it had lain intact alongside a makeshift shelter Dennis appears to have made as he waited, hopelessly, for rescue.
Now a search is to begin for the airman’s remains – as aviation experts and historians begin an operation to recover and display the P-40 aircraft in his memory.
The chance find was made by an oil worker exploring a remote region of the Western Desert in Egypt. It is more than 200 miles from the nearest town in a vast expanse of largely featureless terrain.
Flight Sergeant Copping, part of a fighter unit based in Egypt during the North Africa campaign against Rommel, is believed to have lost his bearings while flying the damaged Kittyhawk to another airbase for repair. All that is known is that he went off course and was never seen again.
‘He must have survived the crash because one photo shows a parachute around the frame of the plane and my guess is the poor bloke used it to shelter from the sun. The radio and batteries were out of the plane and it looks like he tried to get it working.