It all started off as a homework project. Daniel Kristiansen, a 14-year-old from Birkelse in Denmark, wanted to create an interesting presentation for a history assignment. So, armed with a metal detector, he headed out into the field behind his house in search of something he could show.
He was spurred on by a comment from his father, Klaus. When the older Kristiansen had heard about his son’s project, it jogged memories of a story that his grandfather had told him. So he jokingly suggested to Daniel that they try to dig up some proof of this family legend.
It quickly became clear, however, that what Klaus had believed to be a tall tale was in fact true. Fragments of metal soon began to show up. And as the father and son team dug deeper, they made an incredible discovery. As a result, what was originally a school project would now be assisted by a bomb disposal team and the German embassy.
Daniel and Klaus had uncovered the pieces of metal in the field using just a standard metal detector. This was something of a shock to Klaus, who’d been ploughing the area for years. Determined to find out more, then, they decided to borrow an excavator from a neighbor. And digging a trench some 16 feet down, they then found something amazing.
The shards of metal on the surface of the field had just been a taster of what was to come. Digging deeper, they started to find much larger pieces of metal, many of them very well preserved. It became clear that Klaus’ grandfather had been telling the truth. A plane really had crashed just behind the family house.
The pair found a motor as well as what looked like parts of a machine gun. In fact, their search subsequently unearthed a complete engine. They kept digging, uncovering more and more pieces of metal as they did, including bullets from the guns. And it was then that the pair made their most shocking discovery.
For it wasn’t just metal that the Kristiansens dug up. Indeed, as they searched for more parts of the aircraft, they discovered something far more grisly. Deep in the soil, interred for well over half a century, were bones. They’d managed to find the final resting place of someone who was probably a German pilot.
It was then that Klaus decided it was time to call in the authorities. Searching for scraps of metal in a field is one thing, but digging up human remains was something else entirely. Then there was the very real possibility that the wreckage could be dangerous. They’d already discovered bullets, and who knew what else might be down there.
It turned out that the plane Daniel and Klaus had discovered was a Messerschmitt Bf 109. These fighters had been a mainstay of the German air force and were deployed throughout the conflict. All in all, around 30,000 of them were built during World War II. But that doesn’t make the Kristiansens’ discoveries any less important.
Torben Sarauw, head of archaeology at the Historical Museum of Northern Jutland, told CNN that it was “quite a special find.” He went on to add that it was likely the first plane to be unearthed in this fashion in Denmark. What’s more, this is a discovery that has yet to reveal all of its secrets.
The museum believes it has worked out the name of the pilot, although it can’t be entirely sure. There’s also a good chance that it has figured out what base the plane was flown out of. And it’s all thanks to the papers and other documents that the Kristiansens dug up alongside the bones and metal.
As well as them finding the dead man’s ID papers, suit and hat, another important discovery was made. In his belongings were some food stamps, which were for the canteen at a training base in Aalborg used by German pilots during the war.
According to the New York Times, a local amateur historian from Aalborg has suggested a possible explanation for the wreckage. A plane that took off from the base in November 1944 was reported lost, apparently after crashing into a bog. What’s more, the remains of the aircraft and its pilot were never found.
This ties in with the story told by Klaus’ grandfather. Speaking to CNN, Klaus said he’d been told that the plane had crashed “around November or December 1944.” His grandfather had said that he’d been making Christmas cookies at the time of the incident.
Klaus’ grandfather had said that before he could reach the wreck, the German authorities had cordoned off the area. Denmark was an occupied country at the time, and he believed that the plane had then been taken away. “I mainly thought it was just a good story,” Klaus told CNN.
However, it was a story that turned out to be true. And Daniel Kristiansen ended up with much more than a few scraps of metal to show his class. In fact, he was given the day off school to watch as the bomb disposal experts and a professional excavation team began removing the wreckage from the field.
There’s another side to this tale as well. Klaus Kristiansen now hopes that once the remains are identified, the pilot’s family can be found. Then his body can be returned to Germany. “Maybe he can have a proper funeral,” Klaus told CNN. After all, his remains have laid undiscovered for more than 75 years.
So, what began as something of a joke ended with a spectacular discovery. Klaus had thought that maybe Daniel would find some old plates in the field. He never for a second believed that the pair of them would find evidence that corroborated a story spanning four different generations of their family.
Speaking to the BBC, Klaus Kristiansen said that his grandfather had something of a reputation for telling stories – and that not all of them were true. So while the discovery of the wreck may give the rest of us a glimpse into the not-so-distant past, it’s given Klaus pause for thought, too. “Maybe I should have listened to him a bit more when he was alive!” he admitted.