74 years later, a pilot who crashed in France returns home

Published 7:49 am Tuesday, March 27, 2018

BUYSSCHEURE, France — It is early afternoon on a spring day in 1944. On a French farm 20 miles from the English Channel, two young brothers tend the cows — perhaps they goof off a bit — as their father brews beer.

Then a plane falls from the sky.

A P-47 Thunderbolt, an American fighter plane, has been hit by German fire. On the ground, the boys watch as the last moments of a desperate American pilot unfold.

Email newsletter signup

“When the plane fell, there were still bullets exploding” from the plane’s .50-caliber machines guns, recalls Marc Cooche. He was 12 then; at 86, he’s still haunted by memories of that afternoon.

In Cooche’s recollection, the plane veered to avoid some electric cables, maneuvering in the air for two or three minutes before plummeting nose first. The crash left a deep crater in a field of beets. Flames fed by the plane’s fuel licked the sky, and the hole burned for days.

The boys and their father wanted to rescue the pilot. Cooche’s father, who was the town’s mayor, “came with horses and barrels of water to put out the fire,” he says, but Germans had arrived at the site and turned him away. He would later tell investigators the explosion was “formidable.”

In a world war, the loss of a single plane and its 22-year-old pilot, Lt. Frank Fazekas, in rural France drew scant attention. A little more than a week later, just a few miles away, the Allies would launch the largest seaborne invasion in history. Less than a year later, the Nazis surrendered.

Over time, the pit in the field was filled with brick, dead livestock, aluminum and ceramic roofing tiles. Dirt blanketed the makeshift grave, so the farmers could plant again.

A couple years later, a British team looking for their missing found aircraft parts and alerted American authorities. Americans visited the site and deemed the plane and remains “non-recoverable.” The wreckage was mangled and burned, leaving little to compare to dental records or fingerprints.