A helicopter carrying two American soldiers and an anthropologist crashed Friday off the southeast coast of Papua, New Guinea.

The team was on a mission to help search for remains of a World War II bomber accident.

The civilian pilot was killed and a forensic anthropologist from the U.S. Army’s Central Identification Laboratory based at Hawaii’s Hickam Air Force Base sustained minor injuries.

A U.S. Army captain and a sergeant escaped without injuries.

Laboratory spokeswoman Ginger Couden said a Lhama helicopter, a special type used for high altitude operations and contracted by the Army through Pacific Helicopter Group, was involved in the accident.

The company has a local office near the crash site.

“The helicopter had just taken off and was a few minutes into the flight when it crashed near the community of Lae,” Couden said.

The helicopter and crewmembers were enroute to the crash site of a B-24D Liberator bomber that crashed in a mountainous portion of the island during World War II.

A 13-person CILHI team left Hawaii for the island last week to begin a 45-day search for the remains of nine crewmen believed to be aboard the bomber when it crashed in 1943.

“They were surveying before moving all personnel and equipment to the site,” Couden said. “Weather was not a contributing factor in the crash.”

Couden could not release the name of the pilot, deferring instead to Pacific Helicopter’s office in Papua, New Guinea. Company officials could not immediately be reached.

The injured anthropologist was identified by Couden as Dr. Gregory Fox. He was initially listed in stable condition; however, Couden said his condition improved, and he was being held overnight for observation in Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae.

Army Capt. Paul Royle, the team leader, and Sgt. 1st Class James Elzie, the team’s sergeant, were not injured.

The name of a fifth person aboard the helicopter, a representative from the Papua New Guinea National Museum, was not immediately available.

The team has suspended operations and will be returning to Hawaii.

“We thought it would be in the best interest of the team to suspend the mission until a later date,” Couden said. “They will be returning as soon as they can make arrangements.”

She said it was the first mishap for the Pacific Helicopter Group during 10 years of contracted work.

On April 7, 2001, a CILHI worker was among seven Americans and nine Vietnamese who died after the Russian-built MI-17 helicopter being used to survey potential excavation sites in southern Vietnam crashed into a mountainside.

Poor visibility and pilot error contributed to that mishap, investigators said.

Since 1973, the Hawaii-based laboratory has identified more than 1,100 servicemembers missing from past wars and conflicts in the Pacific region.

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