The intermittent Lake Cerknica is, well, magical. I mean, look:
We’ve flown above this wonder of nature a couple of times already, but it is never the same and is always stunning. In the late Spring when the waters are receding and the plants are growing insanely, covering the former bottom of the lake in an outlandish shade of green. In the high Summer, when everything is dry and the monstrous ponors, sinkholes, are exposed. In Autumn when the lake is full and the witch mountain Slivnica is using it as a mirror.
And now in Winter.
Lake Cerknica is full and the hills and mountains around it look as if sprinkled with sugar. The immense blue sky and its herd of white clouds, the blue-green water, the almost black spruces, the curves of now-submerged streams, the white snow covering the sleeping fields …
We could talk about the mysteries of Europe’s largest intermittent lake, about its waters flowing from karst poljes of Prezid, Babno Polje, Lož, going underground towards Rakov Škocjan, Planina, Ljubljana Marshes … we could talk about the wildlife, about birds resting here on their way to Africa, about lynxes, wolves, jackals and bears … about strange and rare flora adapted perfectly to the incessant rhythm of the lake ebbing and flowing …
Or we could just show you one beautiful kite aerial photo after another.
But we won’t. Lake Cerknica lies in the centre of Notranjska regional park, and the fantastic team of park managers and rangers did a great job creating and equipping various trails around the lake, with platforms for observing wildlife, educational pavillions, signposts and info points, all neatly merged with the pristine nature of the lake.
We were following the wind, and on that glorious Sunday in December the place to launch our kites was in the southeast corner of the lake, just beside one of the cute little birdwatching platforms. On the walls of the platform placards inform the visitors about the numerous bird species of Lake Cerknica – but one of the birds presented is different.
This bird was made of steel and aluminium. And it found its final place of rest in Lake Cerknica.
It was the day before Easter, March 31, 1945. People of Cerknica and surrounding villages were already used to the sound of aeroplanes overflying the lake on their daring missions to the still-occupied Europe. Even an improvised airfield was constructed in the nearby village of Nadlesk, used for supplying the Partisan units, and for evacuating wounded fighters and stranded allied airmen. So when a squadron of bombers were returning on March 31 from bombing the marshalling yards near Beljak in Carinthia to their base in Italy, few eyes went up.
But one of the birds of steel flying over Cerknica that day was mortally wounded.
Enveloped in flames, its engines screaming, it dived over Javorniki range towards the lake … A parachute opened, and another, and more … six white hemispheres were carried by the wind into the mountainous forest. The last man jumped very very late, escaping the fiery bird just before it crashed. The man landed in the lake, the plane exploded and disappeared in the murky waters.
“Are you wet,” asked Mr Lekšan who got first to the airman crawling out of the lake.
“No …” replied the man, unzipping the waterproof overalls.
The doomed bird of steel was a Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber, named Margie the Magnificent. The shaken airman was Sergeant Robert E. Shelton, a gunner on Margie. They were part of the 783rd Squadron, 465th Bomb Group, 55th Bomb Wing, 15th Air Force, stationed in Pantanella air base.
The locals took care of the downed airman, giving him warm clothes, food, and reliable escort to the nearby Partisan base. Five days later he and his crew mates were evacuated to Italy. From his silk parachute two cute confirmation dresses were made, for Mira and Zalka Lekšan.
Margie the Liberator was in pieces, sunk deep into the mud of Lake Cerknica. Disappeared and forgotten, seemingly forever.
Until Milan Meden stumbled upon fragments of memories about the bird of steel that crashed into the lake. With a lot of help from the locals he put together the pieces of the story, and went searching for Margie.
The lake is huge, its waters muddy, the memories muddy too. But a magnificent effort of pinning down the actual crash site paid off: in August 2003 the first fragments of Margie were found in the place the locals call Jepava, pretty much in the middle of Lake Cerknica. Even a part of one of the formidable propellers was unearthed.
Seven brave airmen survived the crash of the bomber, safely returning home. And while Margie the Magnificent did not come back to base, it found a really nice place to rest – the magical intermittent Lake Cerknica.
And our kites proudly saluted the true flyers – and Margie, the true queen of the sky.
Full story of finding Margie can be found here (in Slovenian, but online translation is getting better and better). We are indebted to Milan Meden who did all the work putting it together, and who managed to find Margie the Magnificent.
Kite aerial photos shot with Insta360 on Cindy delta, and with Nikon P330 on The Original Blue Rokkaku. Both kites designed and made by master Janez Vizjak of Dr.Agon kites.