A team of amateur aviation historians have discovered the wreckage of a Royal Australian Air Force Spitfire and remains of the pilot who crashed in northern France during World War II.

"/> A team of amateur aviation historians have discovered the wreckage of a Royal Australian Air Force Spitfire and remains of the pilot who crashed in northern France during World War II.

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Australian Spitfire remains found in France

A team of amateur aviation historians have discovered the wreckage of a Royal Australian Air Force Spitfire and remains of the pilot who crashed in northern France during World War II.

The wreckage of the plane, which was shot down in action and crashed in May 1942 near the village of Hardifort, was dug up from beneath five metres (16 feet) of soil, local officials said.

The fighter was in pieces but the bones of its pilot — identified by tags as W.J. Smith of the RAAF, service number 400942 — were recovered.

Officials from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which manages war cemeteries for citizens of British Commonwealth nations who died during the First and Second World Wars, have taken charge of the pilot’s remains for eventual burial.

The wreckage of the plane will eventually be delivered to La Coupole, a former rocket base turned war museum in the nearby town of Saint Omer. 

The 89-year-old former mayor of Hardifort, Jean Bogaert, assisted the researchers in finding the wreckage and remembered seeing the plane crashing when he was 20-years-old.

“We saw it in the distance and there was a loud noise, a cloud of dust and that was it,” he said.

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France’s mystery rooftop panther stolen from zoo

A black panther rescued from rooftops near the northern city of Lille last week has been stolen from the zoo where it was taken after capture, officials said.

France's mystery rooftop panther stolen from zoo
Photo: AFP/ Sapeurs Pompiers du Nord

The feline was seized overnight from the zoo in Maubeuge near the Belgian border, the city's mayor, Arnaud Decagny, told AFP on Tuesday.

“This animal was the only target,” Decagny said, adding that “considerable efforts” were made to force locks and avoid security systems.

Zoo personnel are worried about the young panther's health, “which is rather delicate because he lacks strength,” the mayor added, saying the animal was just a few months old and weighed between 25 and 30kg.

The panther after its capture. Photo League Protectrice des Animaux de la Nord de France/AFP

The panther was going to be transferred to a centre specialised in rehabilitating wild animals that had been domesticated.

Firefighters caught the cat last Wednesday as it roamed rooftops in Armentieres after escaping through the window of a private apartment believed to have been its home.

The panther's owner is thought to have escaped through the same window, for fear of being charged with illegally harbouring a wild animal.

Police have not located the fugitive owner, who could face charges of endangering the public, which is punishable by up to a year in prison and €15,000 in fines, Decagny said.

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