U.S. Navy personnel have discovered the remains of an American aviator who was shot down in combat over the Pacific Ocean in 1944. A team aboard USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52) completed an excavation of multiple aircraft that were shot down during a fateful year of the Second World War near Ngerekebesang Island, Republic of Palau. According to the Navy, the identity of the human remains will not be released until a complete and thorough analysis can confirm positive identification and next of kin are notified. The government of Palau supported the project.
The underwater recovery project was headed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), which deployed an Underwater Recovery Team (URT) comprised of U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force service members and Department of Defense civilians that were embarked aboard the USNS Salvor. Lt. Cmdr. Tim Emge said “It's very labor intensive work and they've had a large amount of bottom time making this operation successful." According to a release, divers have worked 12-hour shifts over the last two months. Emge said that team members used a archaeological tools while inspecting the bottom sediment in their search and recovery of of American military personnel.
The mission was completed on February 25.
“The biggest advantage the Navy has with us on the Salvor is that we are standing by for them with a decompression chamber on board for divers, and we have heavy-lift capability,” said Capt. Mike Flanagan, a civilian mariner and master of USNS Salvor. The Salvor embarked the diving team and other personnel at Guam and Palau. Once the team was at the excavation area, the ship moored over the aircraft. Flanagan said,“The aircraft had been untouched for about 74 years. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a military detachment working this hard for this long, seven days a week.”
Crew members assisted sifting through sand while looking for any evidence, having been trained by an archaeologist onboard. The ship’s chief mate, Jean Marien, said that he and fellow mariners helped with screen the “never ending supply” of sand on the bottom of the sea. The sifting box used by the team was a 4-by-8-feet basket that was about 4-and-a-half-feet high. It was submerged to a depth of about 90 feet. “It took multiple dives to fill a sifting basket. Each dive lasted about an hour and the baskets took 5-to-6-hours to fill it up,” said Marien. “Sometimes we had two baskets going at the same time.”
The mission was part of the United States' commitment to recover lost military personnel, according to a statement from the 7th Fleet.