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Bird in the Sky: homesick mechanic who vanished

Partly based on transcripts obtained through the freedom of information act, documentary-drama attempts to uncover the truth about Sergeant Paul Meyer's disapperance

31 July, 2020 — By Lucy Popescu

Sergeant Paul Meyer

EMMA Jane Kirby’s documentary-drama Bird in the Sky explores the fate of a 23-year-old American mechanic based at RAF Mildenhall in May 1969.

Desperately homesick, Sergeant Paul Meyer (Adam Gillen), a well-respected crew chief, stole a plane and disappeared mid-flight.

Paul had recently got together with divorcee Jane (Julianna Jennings), whom he’d met in a bar in Virginia.

She likened Paul to Huckleberry Finn – fun, loving, romantic – while his stepchildren described him as a mature, responsible person.

Paul and Jane married within weeks of meeting and were together for 55 days before the US Air Force sent him to serve in Mildenhall for three months.

In England, Paul is morose, spends his free time alone and counts the days until he can return home.

Worryingly, he suffers from nightmares – some sort of PTSD after his time in Vietnam.

When Paul is told that he has to extend his tour of duty for a further four weeks, he is beside himself and hits the bottle. His past trauma remains unchecked and he medicates himself with alcohol.

Early one morning, after a night drinking, he poses as a captain, commandeers a Hercules transporter plane and attempts the trip home.

He manages to get airborne and, for a while, flies in circles as if weighing up his options. When he gets through to his wife, he tells her: “I got a bird in the sky and I’m coming home.”

Like his family, Kirby, who also narrates, wants to know the truth. Did Paul crash or was he shot down?

The military closed ranks and tried to blacken his name.

Bird in the Sky is partly based on transcripts obtained through the freedom of information act by Paul’s friend, Sgt Vince (Joe Jameson).

Decades later Paul’s final moments are still a mystery. Wreckage from the plane was eventually recovered but many questions remain unanswered. His family continue to wait for closure, while the military’s secrecy only increases public curiosity.

• On BBC Radio 4 at 2.15pm on July 31.

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