Remains discovered in Sahara may be Kinsale man’s long-lost uncle
The discovery of what may be the remains of a wartime fighter pilot who disappeared in the Sahara Desert 70 years ago has brought mixed feelings for his nephew, who lives in Kinsale.
William Pryor-Bennett (62) is the closest living relative of Flight Sergeant Denis Copping, who, at the age of 24, crash-landed his Kittyhawk P40 plane and walked across the sands to his death.
The seven-decade mystery as to Flt Sgt Copping’s fate was partially solved earlier this year, when the battered but well-preserved Kittyhawk was discovered by a Polish oil worker.
Two weeks ago, an Italian search party contacted Mr Pryor-Bennett to confirm that they had discovered human remains just five miles from the plane.
“It is too soon to say what will happen next,” said Mr Pryor-Bennett, who with his wife has run Mother Hubbard’s Café in Kinsale for the past 16 years.
“There may be DNA tests to determine whether it is my uncle, but it’s too soon to say when. If it comes down to funding, I would pay for the testing.”
The British Ministry of Defence is currently trying to arrange for the Kittyhawk plane to be brought to the RAF Museum at Hendon, to be stored in a hangar which, in an ironic twist of fate, Mr Pryor-Bennett was involved in the construction of 30 years ago.
For William, the discovery of the Kittyhawk and the remains has been a “shock”.
“My grandmother, Denis’s mother, lived with us for the last years of her life, and there was a room in the house with a photograph of Denis, and he would always be remembered at Christmas, his birthday and other occasions,” he recalled.
“I was very young, between the ages of nine and 13, so you can imagine how I felt to realise my uncle was a fighter pilot. I have many photographs of him, and it’s hard to believe, looking at pictures of the rediscovered plane that uncle Denis once sat in there,” he said.
In 1942, Flt Sgt Copping was based in North Africa with the RAF’s 260 Squadron. On June 28th that year, he and another airman were ordered to fly two damaged Kittyhawks to an airbase in northern Egypt for repair, but Flt Sgt Copping went off course and was never seen again.