U.S. military members held a ceremony April 13 to pay final respects to what they believe are the remains of a U.S. airman or airmen who died when their B-24 bomber crashed over the Himalayas on a supply run from India to China during World War II. Eight people were killed in the crash.
Two bone fragments, small enough to fit in a sandwich bag, and some other artifacts were found during an excavation by the U.S. in the mountains. This marks the first time the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency has brought home remains of missing military members from India.
The discovery provides hope to approximately 350 families hoping their loved ones may make it home from India.
According to Gary Stark, the India desk officer for the POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the B-24 known as “Hot As Hell” went missing with its crew in January 1944. It was one of many aircraft flying supplies from China to India over what was known as the Hump.
After the ceremony at the airport in New Delhi, the remains were put in ceremonial boxes and then into flag-draped caskets and flown to a lab in Hawaii for DNA testing. Then officials will know if the two fragments belong to one crew member or two.
The crash site is one where many U.S. aircraft crashed due to the hazardous terrain. Teams have been to the site before but no remains were found previously. This time, experts alongside mountaineering adventurers identified four search areas. Two of the areas were impossible to work in due to the threat of landslides in the areas.
The recovery team had to climb more than 9,000 feet along India’s northeast border.
According to Marine Capt. Greg Lynch, the team hiked for three days to set up a base camp and then hiked up to the crash site every day. At the site, they sifted dirt to look for remains.
“It was very physically grueling to go to this particular area and to conduct this recovery,” said Lynch, who was not on this project. He said that the team was made up of 12 mainly military members and another 12 or so contractors.
Along with the bone fragments, other items related to the crash were found. No personal effects were found that could identify the crew.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who was traveling in India, watched as Taps was played and the remains were placed in the caskets, then loaded onto a C-17 aircraft for the trip to Hawaii.
The Pentagon restated its commitment to the families of servicemen still unaccounted for from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. Many of those families have complained of delays and neglect from the Pentagon agencies that are supposed to find, recover and identify remains from overseas wars.
Carter’s predecessor, Chuck Hagel, had ordered the MIA Accounting Bureau to reorganize and consolidate in order to improve its performance after it came under scrutiny from Congress.
They have increased the number of remains identified last year to nearly 100. They expect to improve further this year.
No more excavations are planned in India before September 30th. The schedule for next year has not been determined.