America’s Lost WWII Hero – Behind the Scenes

Scott, Josh and I after a long day at sea. Good times.

Discovery Channel, Expedition Unknown, Season 7 / Episode 8: America’s Lost WWII Hero – First aired May 22, 2019

Now that the show has aired, I thought to share some behind the scenes stories of the Expedition Unknown (EXU) episode that I was involved with.

First off, I owe this gig to my friend Scott Pawlowski. Without Scott I wouldn’t have got the call. I only wish Scott could’ve had more screen time.

I’d been told the story of “The Last Missing WASP” ten years ago by my friends at MAST (Missing Aircraft Search Team). I was instantly hooked – what a great story. I’d floated the project to various folks over the years but no one was sold – until Scott mentioned it to the EXU folks when they rang him up looking for stories. They loved the story and then things started moving fast.

I saw this as an opportunity to conduct another search for Tommy Thompkins using technology that gave us a good chance to find her. So, let’s not get caught up in any arguments as to the scientific validity of EXU, etc. If EXU will fund another search for Tommy Thompkins – I’m all in. They used me for on screen talent. I used them for a funding mechanism to continue the search.

Josh Gates is a good guy. He’s devoted to the show, sensitive to criticism, and a type A’s type A personality. There’s a formula for the show that clearly resonates with his audience that he sticks to like glue: Join us, it’s going to be fun, we may learn something, we may find something, we may not. When Josh wasn’t on camera or laying out to the crew what he needed for the next bit, he’d sneak off, find a quiet corner on the boat and gush to his small kids on the phone. He’s a fellow New Englander, curses like a sailor and laughs out loud – my kind of cat.

It was a really fun experience and we did serious work while the cameras rolled. Boy I learned a lot. AUVs, ROVs, underwater search procedures, television production, seamanship. My profound thanks to Scott Pawlowski, Chad Nelson and the Orcamaritime crew, L3 OceanServer, and to Josh and the EXU crew. While we didn’t find Tommy Thompkins and her P-51D Mustang we did establish the perfect workflow to find her should we try again . . . and the wrecks / artifacts that we did find were fascinating.


My gear . . .
EXU’s gear . . .
At the dock prepping gear for the search: 3x L3 AUVs (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles) and the tethered ROV (Lime green gear, lower left)
In between takes aboard ship.
That bit in the show when Josh left his underwear on the other boat was real. We had a good laugh with cameras rolling!
The WWII era Oxygen Tank we found. As soon as the ROV saw it underwater I knew what it was! Almost certainly from a WWII B-25 that crashed after the war.
The board knows all. Among other things you’ll see it was a four-camera shoot over Labor Day weekend, 2018.
The search will continue.

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