WWII airmen remains found

first_imgMOJAVE – Bones of two World War II airmen who died in a 1944 bomber crash will be flown to Hawaii for identification after 62 years lying forgotten in the Mojave Desert. A military POW-MIA investigation team spent a month excavating among the sagebrush and creosote bushes about 1 1/2 miles west of Mojave, where the shallow craters and bits of broken airplane parts left by the four-engine B-24 bomber’s impact were disguised by regrown vegetation and years of trash dumping. “We do have the remains of at least two individuals,” Kern County Deputy Coroner Kelly Cowan said. “We also have dog tags and other personal items and coins.” The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command team will fly the remains back to their headquarters in Hawaii for identification, if necessary using mitochondrial DNA obtained by tracking down maternal relatives, command spokeswoman Maj. Rumi Nielson-Green said. She said she did not know if the Army has located relatives. The wreckage and remains in the desert west of Mojave were found last summer through the work of amateur “wreck chasers,” who scour the wilderness for old crash sites. Don R. Jordan, who operates a Web site about airplane wrecks in the mountains and deserts of California and has co-written a book about them, discovered the B-24’s crash site after a search that began in 2001. Through old records, Jordan learned the bomber had left March Field in Riverside County on a training flight to and from Redding, in Northern California. At about 8:15 a.m. April 9, 1944, Mojave townsfolk and Marines at the Mojave Marine Corps Air Station saw the bomber spin out of a cloud and smash into the ground in a giant explosion. The crash was blamed on pilot error. That the wreck site still contained remains of crew members was discovered when Jordan and another wreck chaser, David Schurhammer, returned at the request of the niece of the plane’s radio operator. She wanted a piece of radio equipment and sand from the crash site to sprinkle on the grave of Sgt. Michael Rudich, whose body had been buried in 1944 in Charleston, S.C. Jordan, a California City resident, said he assumes other crash sites he has found and written about since the mid-1970s also contain remains, if only because of the difficulty of collecting everything after a violent crash. “A crash that horrendous, you aren’t going to find everybody; you aren’t going to get everybody,” Jordan said. “I don’t go out there to dig. I consider myself a storyteller.” Kern County coroner officials found more bones during an examination last August, and in May the military search team came out for what turned into a monthlong operation. In the meantime, somebody had dug into the site looking for artifacts. The military team excavated an area about 40 feet by 30 feet, digging up to three feet deep, Cowan said. Most of the bones were found about two feet deep in the crater left by the nose, but some were as much as 15 feet away. Because the Mojave case involved men who were accounted for, it was not a typical investigation for the POW-MIA command, which has 425 personnel tasked with finding and identifying 88,000 military personnel missing from World War II onward. The unit operates the world’s largest forensic anthropological laboratory. This case was also unusual because it involved recovering bodies in the United States, though there have been other similar recent incidents. Most notable was the discovery last October on a Kings Canyon National Park glacier of the frozen body of an aviation cadet killed in a 1942 crash. Last fall, the unit identified a body found in the Cascades Mountains in Washington as that of a pilot whose P-38 fighter plane disappeared in 1942 and recovered the remains of two Navy aviators who had been buried in 1945 near the remote crash site of their Dauntless dive bomber. During World War II, it was not uncommon for airmen to be buried at crash sites if they were in locations from which in the days before helicopters it would be difficult to carry out the bodies. “It is not a regular occurrence,” Nielson-Green said of discoveries in the United States. “In the last year it’s happened more frequently than we had in the last 10 years.” [email protected] (661) 267-5742160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2The remains are believed to be those of navigator Lt. Donald Orth and gunner Sgt. William Mahan, Cowan said, left behind when the bodies of their eight crewmates were removed from the wreckage of the bomber that spiraled into the desert and exploded April 9, 1944. Why Orth’s and Mahan’s remains were left isn’t known, but they were riding in the big plane’s nose, which presumably was buried the deepest by the impact. Part of the men’s remains were apparently collected and returned to their families in 1944, Nielson-Green said. Kern County issued death certificates for Orth and Mahan back in 1944. Cowan said she assumes authorities were pressed for time to recover bodies, as inexperienced crews crashed hundreds of planes in and around the Antelope Valley while training for combat. “The only thing I can guess is we were at war and these things were crashing right and left,” Cowan said. last_img

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