SUPERIOR, WIS. - The famous P-38 Lightning Fighter plane flown by World War II ace of aces Richard I. Bong — and decorated with a photograph of its namesake Marge — was discovered last week nose-down in a ravine in New Guinea, flecks of its signature red paint and part of the serial number still visible 80 years after it crashed.

A team from the nonprofit organization Pacific Wrecks, sent by the keepers of the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in this city a bridge away from Duluth, made the discovery alongside locals after a daylong moderately tricky trek across an old private plantation through grasslands and jungle. Marge was buried up to its engines in the soil, according to the historic search group's founder Justin Taylan.

"It was quite emotional," Taylan said from Madang on the north coast of New Guinea during a livestreamed news conference that aired at the Bong museum.

Bong was in Australia, not with his famous plane, when it had engine failure and crashed in the jungle in 1944. Pilot Thomas Malone was able to escape before Marge went down. The pieces had never been identified as Bong's plane until last week.

Bong, of Poplar, Wis., learned to fly at what is now the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He went on to be a flying cadet in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He flew in 200 missions, shot down 40 enemy planes during World War II and earned numerous awards, including a Medal of Honor. It's believed he shot down three planes while flying Marge — which he flew for just a few months.

Bong is remembered as the ace of ace pilots. His plane had recently been decorated with his sweetheart's college graduation portrait. Marjorie Vattendahl's face was larger than life near the nose of the plane. He would later name another plane for her.

The Bong museum announced in late March that it had hired Pacific Wrecks to carrying out the expedition. Curator Briana Fiandt said they stayed in close contact with the crew as they searched.

"My mouth dropped," she said of getting confirmation that it had been found.

Now she's envisioning immersive exhibits that place viewers in a jungle alongside photographs and videos from the expedition.

Bong, 24, was newly married when he died just more than a year later when a plane he was test-flying crashed in Burbank, Calif. His headlines ran alongside the news that the United States had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

His 99-year-old sister, Jerry Fechtelkotter, who still lives in Poplar, was in the front row at Thursday's news conference.

"Are you going to be able to bring any part of the plane back here?" she asked the search crew.

They won't, Taylan said. The wreckage, which is no longer the property of the United States Air Force, will stay where it landed. He outlined a plan for flying Fechtelkotter in and having helpers carry her to the spot of the crash.

"At 99, I'm going to visit the crash site," she said.

His name is on one of two major bridges between Superior and Duluth, the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge. His widow was at the bridge's dedication and later was behind efforts to build the Bong museum. She spent most of her life in California, married two times and had two children, but is buried alongside Bong on family land in Poplar.