Army team to search Papua New Guinea crash site for remains of WWII aviators
Six decades after a B-24D Liberator bomber crashed, an American search team is heading to Papua New Guinea to seek the remains of its nine fallen aviators.
A U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory search-and-recovery team left Friday from its Honolulu base for the South Pacific island to excavate the crash site. The plane went down in 1943 during World War II.
Laboratory researchers located the site in April 2002, near Yalumet Village in mountainous Morobe Province, said laboratory spokeswoman Ginger Couden. The find came after a Morobe Provincial Government’s Protocol Office representative turned over personal effects believed to be associated with the site.
The B-24 bomber and its crew are believed to have belonged to the 43rd Bomb Group, 63rd Bomb Squadron “Sea Hawks.” The unit operated from Dobodura, New Guinea, on New Guinea’s southeast arm, from October 1943 to April 1944, according to a Web site about the squadron’s history.
Couden said the Liberator — on an armed reconnaissance mission over Kavieng, New Ireland — was returning to Dobodura when reported missing. A pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier and five gunners were aboard.
Reaching the crash site to begin the 45-day search is expected to take stamina. The 13-member laboratory team will spot its base camps near the site at an elevation of about 10,800 feet.
Based on previous recovery expeditions to New Guinea, Couden said, the searchers’ likelihood of success should be high.
“We have been typically very successful doing recoveries because the slower-moving aircraft crashes from World War II resulted in larger proportions of remains being recovered,” she said, “compared to faster-moving jet aircraft used during the conflict in Southeast Asia.”
Because local residents don’t scavenge crash sites, Couden said, remains and personal effects remain “fairly intact.”
Laboratory investigators learn about the aging crash sites’ locations in several ways.
During search and recovery trips, Couden said, investigators try to spread the word that the team is in the area — which sometimes leads villagers to report other crash sites.
“Foresters taking lumber sometimes uncover a site, too,” she said. “They inform the U.S. Embassy there.”
Because of extensive U.S. military operations in the area during World War II, Couden said, enough search and recovery work exists to keep teams busy for years.
“We believe there are more than 200 aircraft crashes from World War II on Papua New Guinea,” she said, on which “we have not been able to perform recoveries.”
In 1990, in Tauta, Mandang Province, Papua New Guinea, laboratory teams recovered the remains of a 10-man U.S. Army Air Corps B-24D bomber crew, missing in action since 1944.
Since 1973, the laboratory has identified more than 1,100 servicemembers from past wars and conflicts.