Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 15:50 UK

US seeks pilot remains in India

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Guwahati


A US team is visiting the remote state of Arunachal Pradesh in north-east India to search for the remains of US pilots who crashed during WWII.

US Consul-General in Calcutta Henry Jardine told the BBC the mission "was in its preliminary stages".

It is thought the remains of up to 400 Americans could still be in Arunachal Pradesh, which borders Burma and China.

Many more servicemen went missing during allied operations to supply China's Kuomintang army fighting Japan.

The team which has been sent is from the US Joint POW-MIA Accounting Comand (Jpac).

"We are just going to Arunachal Pradesh to speak to various people in the government who could help in the search," said Mr Jardine, who is accompanying the team.

Jpac conducts investigation and recovery missions for US defence personnel around the world who went missing during America's many wars.

More than 78,000 Americans are unaccounted for from World War II, with the remains of about 35,000 deemed recoverable.

'The Hump'

The groundwork for the investigation mission to Arunachal Pradesh was done during a meeting between its officials and those of the Indian government in Delhi in March.

My father and I have spent every spare moment searching for relatives of the other crewmen

During the meeting, the officials discussed a tentative timeline for future investigations and recoveries of aircraft crash sites associated with missing US servicemen from World War II, said Jpac spokesman Major Brian DeSantis.

"Now our team is going to Arunachal Pradesh to discuss details of future operations with Ministry of Defence and Arunachal Pradesh officials.

"This will be followed by site visits in early fall [autumn] to determine the scope of debris fields and evaluate unique logistical requirements associated with each site. This process sets the groundwork for future recovery teams," said Major DeSantis.

The first full excavation mission should begin after the monsoon and is scheduled to be finished by the end of the year, he said.

There are more than 1,300 individuals missing - primarily from aircraft crashes - in and around the border area between India, Burma and China, an area known to pilots as "the Hump".

The dangers of flying over the region have been recounted by veterans like Jack Barnard.

While it is impossible to say with certainty in which country a specific plane was lost, Jpac analysts estimate that more than 400 Americans are unaccounted for in Arunachal Pradesh.

Many of the crash sites are across the border in Burma and not accessible to the US team because the Burmese military is not expected to co-operate.

'Every spare moment'

The Jpac mission to Arunachal Pradesh will make the likes of Gary Zaetz very happy.

His uncle, US Army Air Force 1st Lieutenant Irwin "Zipper" Zaetz, disappeared along with his entire crew on 25 January, 1944 when his B-24 Liberator aircraft failed to arrive at Chabua airfield in India's Assam state from Kunming in China.

Then last summer, Mr Zaetz learnt that wreckage had been discovered in the district of East Siang in Arunachal Pradesh in December 2006.

"Since learning of this find, my father and I have spent every spare moment searching for relatives of the other crewmen and have worked with the US government to arrange the sending of a recovery team to the site of the crash," Gary Zaetz said in an email.

Allied pilots flew thousands of sorties to supply the Kuomintang army fighting against Japan.

The planes took off from airfields in north-east India and flew into China's Yunan Province, but many like Irwin Zaetz just vanished over "the Hump".

Later, the Allies built the Stilwell Road connecting north-east India to Yunan through Burma to beef up supplies to keep China in the war.

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