When U.S. Army Air Forces Flight Officer Judson Baskett, First Lieutenant William Myers, and PFC Donald Jones left Singapore on a Douglas C-47 transport aircraft destined for an aerodrome in Penang, they were expecting a safe, routine trip.
These men were flying high both literally and figuratively. World War II was behind them, and they were thinking that the journey would go without incident.
Instead, they and their aircraft vanished for no apparent reason whatsoever.
On 27 November 1945, a few months after the end of the war, the forecast showed clear skies and good visibility, with the promise of only a little rain.
The C-47’s flight would have them dip below the Malay Peninsula, then over the hinterland with its dense jungles, and then down again to the island of Penang, which is located to the northwest of modern Malaysia. This was a routine trip. Another day at the office. No sweat.
Except it wasn’t.
The authorities conducted a widespread search mission, but neither the plane nor its crew could be located. Despite the general lack of evidence, the men were declared to be dead. Nothing else could be done. There were no explanations for the disappearance for many years.
Pacific Wrecks is a charity that investigates shipwrecks both in and around the Pacific Ocean, specifically those from WWII and the Korean War. According to them, twenty years passed before someone reported seeing the remnants of a plane on a jungle mountainside in the peninsula. Investigation of the report in 1966 yielded some evidence of a plane crash but did not locate any remains.
Fast-forward nineteen years, and two jungle-climbers stumbled upon the wreckage. This time, the location was recorded, but it didn’t go any further.
It took until 2009 for officials to take action after local residents photographed the aircraft. The U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur was contacted, and things spiraled from there.
Authorities from the U.S. and Malaysia collaborated on a plan to get to the site and salvage what they could, but it was years before anything got done, due to bureaucratic and political setbacks. Some personal effects were recovered from the area in 2012.
In August 2015, the main salvage operation finally got underway. Remains were located and extracted from the airplane, and carefully taken to Kuala Lumpur where they were ceremoniously handed over to the U.S. military.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter was in Kuala Lumpur for other reasons at the time. He attended the ceremony, in which the deceased airmen received full honors as their remains were carried into a C-130 transport plane, American flags draped over the casket.
Because the aircraft itself had been positively identified, it was assumed that the remains extracted from the wreckage were of the missing men.
The following year, that was officially confirmed after forensic scientists performed the necessary identification tests. The seventy-year-old mystery was solved at last, and the three men laid to rest at home.