Kent

German Dornier 17 bomber English Channel salvage starts

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Media captionWatch the BBC's Nick Higham interview diver Joe Prill as he works to clear debris from the wreckage beneath the waves. Underwater pictures courtesy of Seatech.

Work has begun to raise the only surviving German World War II Dornier 17 bomber from its watery grave at Goodwin Sands, off the Kent coast.

The aircraft has been lying in 50ft of water in the English Channel since being shot down more than 70 years ago during the Battle of Britain.

It was first spotted by divers in 2008 and the project will be the biggest recovery of its kind in British waters.

The salvage operation is expected to take about three weeks.

It is the start of a two-year restoration project by the RAF Museum in Hendon.

'Unprecedented survivor'

Nicknamed the Luftwaffe's "flying pencil" bomber because of its narrow fuselage, the aircraft is said to be in "remarkable condition".

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Media captionHow the wreck of the German bomber will be brought to the surface

Sonar scans have revealed the main undercarriage tyres remain inflated and the propellers clearly show the damage inflicted during the bomber's fateful final landing.

A platform has been erected above the wreck and divers have started to build a cage around the aircraft.

Air Vice-Marshal Peter Dye, director general of the RAF Museum, said: "The discovery and recovery of the Dornier is of national and international importance.

"The aircraft is a unique and unprecedented survivor from the Battle of Britain and the Blitz.

"It will provide an evocative and moving exhibit that will allow the museum to present the wider story of the Battle of Britain and highlight the sacrifices made by the young men of both air forces and from many nations.

"It is a project that has reconciliation and remembrance at its heart."

A grant of more than £345,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) has allowed the work to begin.

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