Wreckage of WWII-Era Douglas SBD Dauntless Discovered In Pacific 80 Years After It Went Missing

Photo Credit: Felix c / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain (Clarity Increased)
Photo Credit: Felix c / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain (Clarity Increased)

In the jungle of Papua New Guinea, a relic from the Second World War has been discovered. The artifact, a downed Douglas SBD Dauntless, went missing in January 1944 with two American airmen aboard. For 80 years, what happened to the dive bomber has remained a mystery, one that’s now been solved.

Three Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers in flight
Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers. (Photo Credit: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The wreck was discovered by locals in January 2024, many of whom had long heard tales about the crash. Photos taken at the site show a propeller, engine and other bits of wreckage. A human skull was also allegedly found within the SBD Dauntless‘ remains – however, this has yet to be confirmed.

As Kilala Kindau, the individual who led the team that located the crash site, told The Daily Mail, “The plane crashed and broke into three pieces, leaving the pilot trapped inside and unable to escape. Early January, we went up to the jungle and were trying to search for the plane.

“The story was told by some of our grandparents and passed on to us that there was a plane crash on the mountain part of the jungle, but they did not know where exactly it crashed. From late December to early January, we searched for the plane. We searched for the serial number and sent it to the US embassy who confirmed it was a US plane and belonged to [Lt. Ramsey].”

The SBD Dauntless, which was under service with the US Marine Corps, took off from Munda Airfield in New Georgia on January 14, 1944. Aboard were pilot Lt. Billy Ray Ramsey and rear gunner Sgt. Charlie J. Sciara of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 236 (VMSB-236) – better known as the “Black Panthers.”

The airmen were taking part in a mission against enemy shipping at Rabaul Harbour, with the fleet involved totaling 26 SBD Dauntless dive bombers and 18 Grumman TBF Avengers, escorted by 73 fighter aircraft.

According to the official report from the time, the group of aircraft came under heavy fire from the ground and encountered Japanese fighters in the air. Ramsey and Sciara’s SBD Dauntless had its “tail shot off by anti-aircraft fire while the flight was approaching the target area,” at which point it entered into “a flat spin” over St. George’s Channel.

Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless in flight over the ocean, with an aircraft carrier transiting below
Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless flying over an Essex-class aircraft carrier, 1944-45. (Photo Credit: Photo12 / Universal Images Group / Getty Images)

Within a year of the dive bomber going missing, both Ramsey and Sciara were declared dead. Since their remains were never recovered, they were listed as “Missing In Action (MIA).”

Ramsey is believed to have died in the crash, and he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and promoted to the rank of captain. Sciara likely survived the accident and was taken prisoner by the Japanese. It’s reported he was held at the Tunnel Hill POW Camp in East New Britain Province, where he died on February 22 1944, of malaria and beriberi, a chronic deficiency in thiamine.

Douglas SBD Dauntless in flight over Wake Island
Douglas SBD Dauntless flying over Wake Island, 1943. (Photo Credit: CORBIS / Getty Images)

The serial number on the wreck – 35971 – matches the information that’s available online. Speaking with The Daily Mail, a spokesperson for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) detailed the US Department of Defense’s next steps.

“DPAA has received multiple reports that wreckage potentially associated with missing personnel was recently discovered on New Ireland, Papua New Guinea,” they said. “We are working to get a team of investigators to the site as soon as we can. As the agency responsible for recovering the remains of Americans missing from past conflicts, DPAA is committed to pursuing this lead.”

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More details regarding the wreckage will likely emerge once a team from the DPAA has made it to the alleged crash site.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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