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Project Recover finds missing WW2 B-25 bombers off PNG

Underwater wreck of a WWII B-25 bomber (Project Recover)ROBERT MONROE | Phys Org Website

TWO B-25 bombers associated with American servicemen missing in action from World War II were recently documented in the waters off Papua New Guinea by Project Recover.

The project is a collaborative team of marine scientists, archaeologists and volunteers who have combined efforts to locate aircraft and associated MIAs from World War II.

The B-25 bomber is one of the most iconic aircraft of World War II, with nearly 10,000 of the famous warbirds conducting a variety of missions—from bombing to photo reconnaissance, to submarine patrols, and the historic raid over Tokyo.

PNG was the site of military action in the Pacific from January 1942 to the end of the war in August 1945, with significant losses of aircraft and servicemen, some of whom have never been found.

Project Recover is comprised of scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment at the University of Delaware and members of the non-profit organization BentProp Limited.

In February, a Project Recover team set out on a mission to map the seafloor in search of missing WWII aircraft, conducting an official archaeological survey of a known B-25 underwater wreck and interviewing village elders in in the immediate area.

In its search of nearly 10 square kilometres, 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 missing airmen.

"People have this mental image of an airplane resting intact on the sea floor but the reality is that most planes were often damaged before crashing or broke up upon impact.

“After soaking in the sea for decades they are often unrecognisable 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 latest discovery is a result of the dedication and fervent efforts of everyone associated with Project Recover," said Dan Friedkin, chairman and CEO of The Friedkin Group and a member of the Project Recover team who provides private funding for the organization.

"We are encouraged at the progress that is being made as our search efforts expand and remain committed to locating the resting places of all U.S. servicemen missing since World War II."

In addition to searching for missing aircraft, Project Recover also conducts archaeological surveys of sites that are known, but not yet documented, like the site of a B-25 bomber that was discovered in Madang Harbour.

"While well known to locals and scuba enthusiasts for over 30 years, this particular B-25 had never been officially surveyed," said Andrew Pietruszka, a Scripps Oceanography scientist and Project Recover's underwater archaeologist.

Of the six crew associated with the aircraft, five survived the crash but were taken prisoner by the Japanese. The remaining crewmember went down with the plane and is still listed as missing.

"Our team of divers and scientists conducts site surveys to fully document the wreckage. That documentation can then be used by the US government to correlate soldiers still missing in action with the aircraft site we discovered, and to evaluate that site for the possible recovery of remains," said Pietruszka.

While speaking to village elders about the two B-25 cases, Project Recover team members were told about local terrestrial burial sites and an additional aircraft that had crashed on land.

"Any find in the field is treated with the utmost care, respect and solemnity," said O'Connell. "There are still over 73,000 US 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 honour the service of the fallen."

The mission to Papua New Guinea kicked off Project Recover's second year of formal operations and was made possible by a substantial financial commitment from Friedkin in 2016. Friedkin's continued support is helping sustain ongoing missions, while enabling the organization to innovate its technology and broaden its search and discovery efforts to focus areas around the world.

Among other missions around the world, Project Recover plans to return to Papua New Guinea later this year to focus on other cases of interest and further explore leads that developed from the February 2017 mission.

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