Two Members of Cal Poly Team Who Found Wreckage of Rare WWII Plane Interviewed on NPR Affiliate

In an interview on KCLU public radio, a Cal Poly graduate student and computer science professor describe a student research expedition that led to the discovery of the wreckage of a rare World War II plane in the waters off Malta.

Cal Poly Engineering graduate student Sam Freed and computer science Professor Zoë Wood described an “experience of a lifetime” in an interview aired on KCLU, a Southern California NPR affiliate station. The pair were recounting a Cal Poly research expedition which led to the discovery of the wreckage of a rare World War II-era plane in the Mediterranean Sea.

The research project, in partnership with Harvey Mudd College, was part of an ongoing International Computer Engineering Experience (ICEX) program that offers students the opportunity to apply their technical knowledge and further their research education in an international context.

Wood, along with Christopher Clark, an engineering professor from Harvey Mudd, led a team of six students on a monthlong expedition to the Mediterranean island of Malta. ICEX has received two $50,000 National Science Foundation grants for the program, which is in its fifth year.

Three Cal Poly students (Amy Lewis, software engineering senior; Roslyn Patrick-Sunnes, computer science senior; and Freed) and three students (Jeff Rutledge, Jane Wu and Wentao Yuan) from Harvey Mudd College’s Lab for Autonomous and Intelligent Robotics collaborated to plan AUV missions to search for sites, collect and process data and generate 3-D reconstructions of the sites.

Wood said the team “hit the jackpot” this summer when students found the wreckage of the historic British war plane, the Fairey Swordfish. A torpedo bomber, the World War II-era biplane sank more tonnage than any other Allied plane during World War II and served from the beginning of the war until the end.

“Considering the plane has been under 90 feet of water for seven decades, it’s remarkably well preserved,” said Wood. “The biplane’s collapsed metal remains look very birdlike and its engine cowling is still recognizable.”

In researching the cause of the 1943 crash, students pieced together that engine trouble forced the two men aboard — pilot and co-pilot — to land in waters off the coast of Malta where they were rescued by a passing sailboat.

Wood said,”I’m proud of the plane’s discovery by the team, but even more proud of the experiences the effort is giving students.”