Recovery team excavating World War II site

Posted: Monday, August 04, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Specialists from a U.S. Army lab are on Kiska Island excavating the crash site of a World War II bomber in an effort to repatriate the remains.

The PBY-5 aircraft and its seven crewmen are thought to have crashed into Kiska Volcano during an attack against the invading Japanese army in June 1942.

A nine-member recovery team from the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii arrived at Kiska on Friday aboard a chartered ship.

The team includes a forensic anthropologist and an unexploded ordnance expert. They will excavate a site on the northwest side of the volcano at about the 2,750-feet level.

''The recovery site is excavated like an archaeological dig,'' lab spokeswoman Ginger Couden told the Anchorage Daily News. ''It's divided into 4-by-4-meter grids, and then the team excavates those grids and recovers as much of the remains and personal effects as they can.''

Recovered remains will be taken to Hickam Air Force Base for identification by a forensic team. The identification process could take several years, Couden said.

Kiska is an uninhabited island in the Aleutian Islands about 1,500 miles from Anchorage. The crash site is so remote the ship and helicopter used in the recovery are constantly tracked by satellite.

The airplane is believed to be part of a squadron of Navy fliers engaged in a three-day counterattack of Japanese positions during the invasion. Half the PBYs were lost and American forces temporarily pulled back to Dutch Harbor, according to history books ''The Thousand Mile War'' and ''The Aleutian Warriors.''

The remains were first located and buried on the site in 1943 after Allied forces reoccupied Kiska, Couden said. Heavy snow blocked attempts to recover the remains in 1946 and 1947.

Two research biologists doing a field survey of Norway rats on the island found the wreckage in 2001. Snow had receded giving the lab enough photographs and details to launch a new investigation.

There were human remains visible that summer, as well as equipment such as silk parachutes, nautical charts and an instrument panel still in good shape, said biologist Ian Jones.

''We're one of the few people ever to walk up there,'' Jones said last spring.

At this point, the names of the seven men lost in the Kiska crash remain unknown, Couden said. She said the lab won't release other details about their possible identities until its experts complete their studies.

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