On 4 June 1942, during the Battle of Dutch Harbor, a 19 year old Japanese pilot, Tadayoshi Koga, left the carrier Ryūjō in his Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero. Upon reaching the harbor, Koga and his two wingmen shot down a PBY-5A Catalina Flying Boat. Koga strafed the PBY survivors while they were in the water, and when doing so, his Zero was hit by small arms fire.
The fatal shot to Koga’s Zero hit the oil return line. Koga and his wingmen flew to Akutan Island, which was a recovery point for Japanese airmen. A submarine was nearby to pick anyone up who needed evacuation. The Zeros all circled the grassy field and Koga went in for an emergency landing. With his wheels down.
The wheels of the Zero immediately caught in the soft muskeg, and the plane flipped, killing Petty Officer Koga. The wingmen had orders to destroy any Zero to keep it out of enemy hands, but the wingmen could not fire on the upside down Zero, because they did not know if Koga was still alive. They flew off for their home carrier.
On 10 July 1942, Lt William Thies spotted the wreckage while on patrol in his PBY Catalina. The PBY circled the downed plane several times, marked its location on a map, and returned to Dutch Harbor with the news.
The next day, a recovery team flew out to inspect the Zero. Thies talked his way onto the team. The Zero was almost completely intact. Petty Officer Koga was believed to have died instantly when the plane’s canopy hit the earth. Koga was cut from the Zero and buried nearby.
On 15 July, the Zero was pulled out of the mud and transported to a barge. In Dutch Harbor, it was flipped upright, cleaned and loaded onto the USS St Mihiel. By 1 August, it was in Seattle, and then onward to San Diego, where it was repaired. By 20 September, the Zero was flying again, this time painted with the American Blue Circle/White Star insignia.
Several wrecked Zeros were recovered after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but none were in near flying condition as the Akutan Zero. The plane was analyzed thoroughly, and it is generally agreed that the recovery of the plane led to information which helped the pilots flying against it.
The Akutan Zero was destroyed in February of 1945, when a SB2C Helldiver lost control and ran into the Zero on the runway. The Helldivers propellers cut the Zero into pieces. Several museums, including the Alaska Heritage Museum, have parts of the aircraft.