Spitfire flypast at the funeral of 87-year-old who rescued it

Jim Pearce (left) with the last surviving Focke Wulf 189 (top) and a Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter plane that he pulled out of a lake. Pictures contributed by Jim's family
Jim Pearce (left) with the last surviving Focke Wulf 189 (top) and a Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter plane that he pulled out of a lake. Pictures contributed by Jim's family

A Spitfire flypast was a fitting sendoff for an 87-year-old who spent years salvaging historic warplanes, often in dangerous conditions.

Born on a farm in Surrey in 1929, great-grandfather Jim Pearce dreamed of becoming a pilot from a young age.

His daughter Michelle Ware, 44, who lives in Pentland Road in Durrington, said: “He was a very active man and his love and skill for flying were second to none.”

Starting out working on farms, Jim combined it with his love of flying in the 1970s to form a business spraying crops with an aeroplane.

Michelle said: “He used to do that all over the world, flying an inch over the ground.”

But it was not until a heart bypass stopped him from flying that Jim took up the job that earned him worldwide respect: warbird recovery.

Jim would go into Russia and recover lost warplanes that had crashed during the Second World War.

He would then restore them for musuem display or flights from private airstrips.

Sometimes his work was dangerous. During one trip he was chased by a bear.

Michelle recalled the moment when Jim reunited the only suriving German Focke Wulf 189 plane with its former pilot at an airshow.

The pilot went straight over, looked at the controls and said ‘right where I left it’, according to Michelle.

Jim was also involved in the search for Spitfires buried in Myanmar (formerly Burma) .

Michelle praised her mother Gwyn, who met Jim at a bus stop in 1950: “If it wasn’t for her I do not think he would have been as successful as he was, she was behind him all the time.”

Jim – who lived in Findon – gave talks at Shoreham Airport as he had ‘the gift of the gab’, Michelle said.

He died on July 26 after suffering from health issues.

His funeral was at Shipley Church last Thursday.

Michelle said: “It was befitting that the Spitfire which gave its final salute to him was one of the aircraft he brought back to the UK.”