Pilot of lost Second World War plane to be buried
Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping, then 24, survived the accident in June 1942 and is believed to have walked away from his wrecked P40 Kittyhawk fighter plane to find help.
But his parents received a telegram informing them their son was missing in action, and he was never seen again.
The almost perfectly preserved plane has now been found in the Western Desert by an oil worker, and has been described as a time capsule akin to Tutankhamun’s tomb.
Following the remarkable discovery, his nephew William Pryor-Bennett, 62, has spoken of his family’s hopes they may find the body and lay Fl Sgt Copping to rest with a proper funeral.
The defense attaché at the British embassy in Cairo is due to visit the RAF Kittyhawk in the next few weeks and has already confirmed a search of a 20 mile radius of the plane will be conducted.
Mr Pryor-Bennett said his family had until now believed the young pilot had died in crash. Instead, the wreckage of the P-40 plane suggests he made a make-shift shelter using his parachute outside before walking away to find help.
Mr Pryor-Bennett said: “My poor old mum didn’t live to find out what happened to her brother or see him come back home.
“But if there is any chance of finding him now and bringing him home so we can give him a funeral and pay our respects then I would fully support any search and say good luck to then.
“My own son, John, is willing to go over to Egypt and help with the search.
“I just hope they find him and bring him home.”
Flt Sgt Copping’s great-nephew, John Pryor-Bennett, 35, added: “He must have had such a horrible and lonely death so it would be wonderful if we could give him a funeral with his family around him.”
Flt Sgt Copping was based with the RAF’s 260 squadron during the North Africa campaign in World War Two in 1942.
On June 28, 1942 he was on a routine flight to take his damaged Kittyhawk plane from one airbase to another for repair when he lost his bearings and came down in the middle of the Western desert.
His devastated parents, Sydney and Adelaide Copping, received a telegram at their home in Southend, Essex, informing them their son was missing in action.
The family held out hope that he would one day return after the war before they accepted he had been killed in a P-40 plane crash.
Mr Pryor-Bennett, of Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland, said: “My nan, Dennis’ mother, lived with my parents for the last 11 years of her life.
“She had pictures of Dennis up in her room and there was one of him on our mantlepiece.
“My mother, Edna, used to refer to him as ‘my dear little brother’. My mother thought the world of him. We used to get flowers to mark his birthday.
“The family received a telegram that he was missing in action and they though Dennis had died in place crash in the desert, but it is now clear that he survived for some time.
“It had a devastating effect on my nan. I remember on one occasion she and my mum were doing the washing in a wringer and a number of planes went overhead. My nan looked up almost in hope and caught her hand in the wringer.
“When I was aged about nine, my brother and I would ask each other whether we thought uncle Dennis was still alive in the desert somewhere.”
F/Sgt Copping was the youngest of five brothers and sisters: Lillian, Lionel, Gordon and Edna.
Plans are also underway to try and recover the Kittyhawk, which was found by a Polish oil company worker by chance.
The RAF Museum at Hendon, north London, is working with the defense attache to secure the aircraft and return it to the UK.