Scientists Discover Sunken World War II Aircraft and Airmen

Eric Terrill, Mark Moline/Scripps Oceanography at UC San Diego
Eric Terrill, Mark Moline/Scripps Oceanography at UC San Diego / Eric Terrill, Mark Moline/Scripps Oceanography at UC San Diego

During World War II, in July 1944, an American torpedo bomber embarked on a combat mission. It was shot down, and its three crew members were declared missing in action (MIA). Now CNN reports that the TBM-1C Avenger aircraft—and the remains of its passengers—have been located at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, near the island nation of Palau. The TBM-1C Avenger will be turned over to the U.S. government, which will identify the plane’s crew based on their DNA, dog tags, and dental records.

The discovery comes courtesy of Project RECOVER, a collaborative scientific endeavor that uses archival research and sonar technology to find MIA aircraft and members of the armed forces. The group studies photographs, interviews with veterans, and historic documents to form a rough guess of where a plane crashed. Underwater robots then locate potential wreck sites, and divers explore the sea floor for more clues. In turn, they share their findings with the Department of Defense's Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), which contacts the families of missing soldiers to let them know their loved ones have been found.

One of the project’s founders is Eric Terrill, an oceanographer from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. “The importance of our mission is reinforced with each new discovery of a missing aircraft," Terrill said in a statement. “But this is more than reconnecting with history; it's about locating the missing to enable the U.S. government to bring them home for a proper burial. With potential recovery sites around the world, Project RECOVER and its team of researchers and volunteers are expanding to intensify its searches using modern science and technology."

Project RECOVER has spent the past few years looking for the TBM-1C Avenger. But according to CBS News, it’s just one of dozens of U.S. fighter planes submerged in Palau’s waters. The others are located in coral reefs or hidden by mangrove forests. In the future, Project RECOVER hopes to identify these wrecks—and others—to ease the minds of veterans' families.

"We have identified 100 cases worldwide that are suitable for recovery, and over 200 families have reached out asking for help with MIAs," Terrill told CNN.

[h/t CNN]

All photos courtesy of Eric Terrill, Mark Moline/Scripps Oceanography at UC San Diego