Wednesday, 1 August 2012

US aircrew's remains found in sunken WWII aircraft

The remains and personal belongings of five American airmen have been recovered from the wreck of a US Air Force plane, almost 70 years after it sank in Canadian waters, a diplomat said Tuesday.

The amphibious plane was accidentally discovered by underwater archeologists in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in 2009 and a 50-person US military team was sent earlier this month to search for the remains of the crash victims.

They found the aircraft resting upside down in pitch black, frigid waters, about 40 meters (131 feet) down, two kilometers (1.2 miles) off the coast of Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, Quebec, said US Consul General Peter O'Donohue. "In these extremely difficult circumstances, you could see the stress on the faces of the divers who were returning from the wreck," he told AFP, noting that the aircraft remained in fairly good condition. "The team has been able to recover quite a few artifacts, including instruments, personal items, even part of a log book that is still legible after 70 years under water... as well as human skeletal remains."

The Catalina seaplane had foundered in rough weather during takeoff on November 2, 1942, in the waters surrounding what is now the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve in the eastern part of the gulf.

The plane was based at Presque Isle, Maine, in the United States, and it serviced an airfield in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northeast of Montreal.

Nine people were on board when the aircraft went down but four crew members escaped the flooding plane and were rescued by local fishermen rowing out from shore in open boats in rough seas. The five others perished, trapped inside.

The recovery "was quite emotional for everyone on the ship and people in the local village who felt a connection with the American airmen who have been just offshore from their village for the past 70 years," O'Donohue said.

Around 84,000 US servicemen who served in conflicts since the Second World War are still missing.

O'Donohue said he witnessed on the Canadian waterway "a sacred mission to recover US soldiers lost in war." In the United States, "there's a deeply held sense that servicemen whenever possible should be returned to their families and given a respectful burial... in our own soil," he explained.

 In 1941 and 1942, the United States constructed a series of airfields in eastern Canada to ferry aircraft to Allied air forces in northern Europe, as part of the so-called "Crimson Route."

The construction of the airfield in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan was meant to serve as an emergency landing strip along the ferry route between Presque Isle and Goose Bay, Labrador.

Other items recovered from the wreck include a watch, a pair of glasses, navigational instruments, and pieces of uniforms.

The bones and artifacts will be sent to a US military base in Virginia for forensic identification, including dental records and DNA. The Catalina sea plane will remain where it lies.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

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Philippine farmer finds mass grave; 30 skeletons exhumed

MANILA - A Philippine farmer unearthed a mass grave with the skeletal remains of up to 30 people believed to be victims of an internal purge by communist rebels in the 1980s, the army said on Sunday.

Rommel Malinao was ploughing his field in a remote village in Quezon province, south of Manila, when he made the discovery on Saturday, army spokesman Major Harold Cabunoc said.

The army deployed a team to cordon off the site and with the help of police forensics experts exhumed the skeletons. “As of last count, there were about 30 human skeletons,” Cabunoc said. “We believe these were victims of the New People’s Army (NPA) ‘kangaroo courts’, which sentenced to death many members they had suspected as government intelligence agents.”

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging a Maoist rebellion since 1969 — one of the longest-running communist insurgencies in Asia.

At its peak in the 1980s, NPA numbers were believed to have reached 26,000, but that is now down to only 4,000 fighters due to losses on the battle field.

The government alleges that in the mid-1980s, the NPA set up so-called ‘kangaroo courts’, which condemned to death hundreds believed to have become agents for the state.

Various mass graves have been unearthed by the military since 2009, but Saturday’s find was believed to contain the biggest number of skeletons so far, Cabunoc said.

Cabunoc added that villagers interviewed by the army near the site said many of their relatives whom they had suspected of joining the NPA went missing in the 1980s and had not been heard of since.

Some of the skeletons showed the hallmarks of torture, although further verification was needed, he said.

President Benigno Aqu-ino re-opened peace talks with the communists in February last year but the negotiations have been delayed by the rebels’ demand to release detained comrades.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

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ID-card may reveal mystery of crashed AN-12 aircraft

Manali (Himachal Pradesh), Aug 1 (IANS) A frayed identity card bearing the name Arjun Singh of Pune may reveal the 45-year-old mystery crash of an AN-12 aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) into the snow-capped mountain of Lahaul Valley of Himachal Pradesh.

A group of trekkers, from local mountaineering institute NALS Outdoor India Private Ltd., has found the identity card of Arjun Singh, aircraft wreckage, shoes and clothes spread over a glaciated area at an altitude of over 17,500 feet near the Chandrabhaga peak.

Trekker and expedition leader Dinanath Thakur told IANS Wednesday that during descent of the majestic CB-13 peak (Chandrabhaga peak 13), located at an altitude of 6,164 metres or 20,624 ft, they found the debris of an aircraft scattered over Dakka Glacier July 15. "We have handed over the identity card to sub-divisional magistrate on return to Manali," he added.

 The other two members of the expedition were Kamlesh Kumar and Kuber Kumar. The AN-12 aircraft of the IAF had taken off from Chandigarh Feb 7, 1968, on a routine logistics sortie with 102 people on board to Leh in Jammu and Kashmir.

The ill-fated aircraft carrying 102 passengers, including four crew members, 92 Army and six IAF personnel, had taken off from Chandigarh to Leh. Minutes before landing, the pilot — flight lieutenant HK Singh — was radioed to return to Chandigarh due to inclement weather. The flight took a U-turn and lost contact with the radio operator after some time. The aircraft, according to the IAF, was not able to negotiate the bad weather en-route and hit the Chandrabhaga peak. There were no survivors of the crash.

The flight’s disappearance remained a mystery for 35 years until mountaineers from Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, Manali, recovered its wreckage and a body, identified as Beli Ram, resident of Akhnoor, in 2003. In August 2007, three more bodies were accidentally recovered. Search for the bodies has been stopped since 2009.

It was only in July 2003 that an expedition from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali discovered the wreckage site.

And last week, three youths – Deena Nath, Kamlesh Kumar and Kuber Kumar — from Manali accidently found the scattered wreckage, including machine parts, clothes, documents and human remains, during their CB-13 peak climbing expedition.

They also discovered an identity card of a soldier, Arjun Singh from Pune, with ASC (Army Service Corp) written on it. The trekkers said they would have salvaged more but had to return to base camp due to lack of time and rations.

“There are lots of things scattered around the valley and melting snow has exposed them,” said expedition coordinator Deena. Searching for the remains of the soldiers should not prove very difficult this year, he added.

Since the crash, only four bodies have been recovered and 98 bodies are still beneath the snow. Their families are writing to the government to launch a search and bring the bodies back for last rites. After half a dozen searches by the military failed to yield results, the operation was called off in 2009. Now when most people have forgotten about the accident, the recovery of the identity card has sent a wave of hope among the relatives.

Kamlesh said Dhaka glacier, at a height of 16,000 feet, has receded and exposed vast areas. “Plane debris are lying there which could be helpful in establishing the cause of the crash. We found a bunch of human hair too,” he added. Youths have handed over the documents to Manali sub-divisional magistrate for further action.

The team also found the mortal remains and documents of Pioneer Beli Ram.

His remains were moved to his native village in Akhnoor and cremated with full military honours.

Subsequently, the Indian Army has launched expeditions every summer to recover bodies of the lost soldiers. Code named Operation Punaruthan-III, an expedition of the army retrieved three bodies Aug 9, 2007, near the Chandrabhaga peak.

The cause of the crash is still a mystery as the black box (flight data recorder) has not been recovered.

 Thakur, who is currently on another mountaineering expedition in Leh and is to return to Manali Aug 8, said: "There are chances that aircraft's major portion could be located in the glacier's southern portion where the debris was spotted." "It seemed that the glacier mass was thinned more this season compared to the previous years. This might help the subsequent search parties of the army to recover more human remains and other vital aircraft parts," he added.

Manali sub-divisional magistrate Balbir Thakur, who was given the identity card by the trekkers, Wednesday handed it over to Col. Arun Kainthla, Administrative Commandant posted at army transit camp at Palchan, some nine km from here.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

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