Researchers from Project Recover have discovered the wrecks of two B-25 bombers that went missing over the waters off Papua New Guinea during World War II. Papua New Guinea saw a great deal of action in the Pacific theater between 1942 and 1945, and many US aircraft were lost, their crews listed as Missing in Action. The archaeologists, marine scientists and volunteers dedicated to the recovery of the remains of the fallen in action that make up the Project Recover team have been working since February to systematically map the seafloor in the search for lost B-25s.
In its search of nearly 10 square kilometers, Project Recover located the debris field of a B-25 bomber that had been missing for over 70 years, associated with a crew of six MIAs.
“People have this mental image of an airplane resting intact on the sea floor, but the reality is that most planes were often already damaged before crashing, or broke up upon impact. And, after soaking in the sea for decades, they are often unrecognizable to the untrained eye, often covered in corals and other sea-life,” said Katy O’Connell, Project Recover’s Executive Director, who is based at the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. “Our use of advanced technologies, which led to the discovery of the B-25, enables us to accelerate and enhance the discovery and eventual recovery of our missing servicemen.”
Project Recover blends historical and archival data from multiple sources to narrow underwater search regions, then surveys the areas with scanning sonars, high definition imagers, advanced diving, and unmanned aerial and underwater robotic technologies.
The second B-25 was actually known to have crashed in Papua New Guinea’s Madang Harbor. Residents and scuba divers had seen the wreck over the past 30 years, but no archaeologists had surveyed the site. Six crewmen were on board that aircraft when it went down. Five of them survived and were taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese. The sixth is believed to have gone down with the plane and is listed as MIA.
It’s because of that sixth crew member that Project Recover made it a priority to properly document the wreck site. Their scientifically precise documentation will be of paramount importance to the US military should they attempt to locate and recover potential remains of the missing airman or any other soldier associated with the information about the wreck.
Project Recover also enlisted the aid of oral histories from local residents who heard the wartime stories passed down from their fathers and grandfathers. These accounts proved invaluable to researchers. Not only did they learn about the downed B-25s, but they also learned of burial sites on Papua New Guinea and another airplane that crashed on land instead of in the ocean.
In the cases of the B-25 wrecks as with all such finds, Project Recover forwards all information about the craft, any identifying information and all possible crewmen associated with the wreck to the Department of Defense’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). It is the DPAA that pursues all potential recovery and repatriation of MIA remains and that notifies surviving family members.
“Any find in the field is treated with the utmost care, respect and solemnity,” said O’Connell. “There are still over 73,000 U.S. service members unaccounted for from World War II, leaving families with unanswered questions about their loved ones. We hope that our global efforts can help to bring closure and honor the service of the fallen.”