propeller of underwater airplane wreckage of World War II aircraft in Chuuk

Project Recover Locates 3 WWII Aircraft in Chuuk

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March 9, 2020
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Amazing footage from Project Recover Partner University of Delaware of this article’s find.

Project Recover located three World War II aircraft in Chuuk. The team identified two SBD – 5 Dauntless divers and one TBM/F-1 Avenger torpedo bomber in the Truk Lagoon. Researchers from the School of Marine Science and Policy at the University of Delaware and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, located the crash sites. Both are co-founding partners with Project Recover. The downed aircraft are associated with seven WWII MIAs.

WWII Aircraft in Truk Lagoon from Operation Hailstone

The planes were lost during Operation Hailstone in February 1944. Operation Hailstone was a massive two-day military assault on the Japanese base in Truk Lagoon. Chuuk, formerly Truk Lagoon, is a state in the Federated States of Micronesia, a country spanning 600 small islands in the western Pacific. 

The US won the battle. The task force destroyed more than 50 Japanese ships and 200 aircraft. However, the US lost more than 30 aircraft during Operation Hailstone. Twelve of the downed WWII aircraft in Chuuk are likely in Truk Lagoon. Those aircraft are associated with 23 MIA servicemembers.

Locating the WWII Aircraft in Chuuk

Project Recover conducted four missions in Chuuk from April 2018 through December 2019. They spent a total of 50 days on the water and surveyed 27 square miles of the ocean floor at depths from 100 to 215’ deep. The underwater searches are accomplished by repetitive surveys with side-scan sonar on autonomous underwater robotic technology launched from small dive boats. Once non-natural debris on the seafloor is detected by sonar, divers and underwater robots with advanced imaging systems further investigate the sites. Three of the 61 sites interrogated revealed U.S. aircraft.

Truk Lagoon is a popular diving destination, however, no one has previously spotted the three World War II aircraft. Mark Moline, Project Recover co-founder, expedition leader, and director of the University of Delaware’s School of Marine Science and Policy explains.

“When these aircraft crash into the water, they don’t look like aircraft anymore. Most of them are piles of metal that don’t rise very far off the bottom. The exception is the propeller, usually sticking out.”

(Mark Moline, Ph.,D., Project Recover co-founder; Director of School of Marine Science and Policy at University of Delaware School)

Indeed, these bent propellers are the iconic symbols behind Project Recover’s former company name, The BentProp Project. 

WWII Gunner’s Report Helps Locate Planes

A gunner’s eyewitness report describing a Dauntless dive bomber fall while firing on a Japanese transport ship helped identify the location of the WWII aircraft in Chuuk.

“We were able to line up this piece of the puzzle with this other piece of the puzzle … and focus our search around this ship. That was where we ended up finding this airplane.”

(Colin Colbourn, Ph.D., Project Recover lead historian)

Project Recover will share the crash site documentation with Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) as well as and the Federated States of Micronesia. 

“While the discovery of these sites is exhilarating and validating, these feelings are mixed with the humbling emotions of the sacrifices made by these service members and their families in protecting our freedoms.”

(Mark Moline, Ph., D., Project Recover co-founder and expedition leader)

The Friedkin Group

We are grateful to Dan Friedkin and The Freidkin Group whose generous sponsorship since 2014 made this mission possible. Dan Friedkin is Chairman of Project Recover and Chairman and CEO of The Friedkin Group. Privately held, The Friedkin Group is a consortium of businesses and investments in a variety of industries including automotive, hospitality, entertainment, golf, and adventure.

Chesapeake Technology

Chesapeake Technology donated SonarWiz software to Project Recover for reviewing sonar data and imagery collected by the autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). Their generous contribution helps Project Recover successfully accomplish our mission to bring MIA’s home.

Project Recover

Project Recover is a collaborative effort to enlist 21st-century science and technology in a quest to find and repatriate Americans missing in action since World War II, in order to provide recognition and closure for families and the nation.

Every American's Mission - Donate Today

“We remain committed to locating more Americans missing in action in Chuuk and around the world,” said Derek Abbey, Project Recover President and CEO said.

(Derek Abbey, Ph.D., Project Recover President and CEO)

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  1. Well done !!! Hoping that, one day, you and your intrepid recovery team will reach out to the government of the Philippines so that recovery efforts can begin there. My uncle, Cpl Frank C Burns, USMC was lost in the mountains of southern Mindanao while on a clean-up mission 16 May 1945. His is a long, albeit “odd” story regarding how it happened. He was a gunner who bailed prematurely due to heavy turbulence. His pilot returned to base without him. MIA since then declared KIA 16 May 1946.

    Greg Burns

    1. Hello Greg, On behalf of all Project Recover members, we express our sympathies and gratitude as Americans for the ongoing loss of your Uncle Frank. We gratefully acknowledge his sacrifice in defense of our country, as well as the consequent sacrifices made by you and your family to this day.
      We will reach out to you via email to discuss this MIA in more detail.

      We have two articles on our website that include steps you can take to learn what is known about your family’s missing relative as well as provide your own information to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).

      How To Research Your Family’s MIA includes the first three steps you can take to get started. It includes DPAA resources, family meetings, and casualty office phone numbers.
      Click here: https://www.projectrecover.org/research-your-familys-mia/

      Finding Heaven Can Wait; Kelly Family Shares MIA Research – The Kelly Family Shares Research reveals the steps the Kelly Family Research team took to research the possible location of the downed B-24, Heaven Can Wait. After five years of research, they turned their findings over to Project Recover which located the B-24 in October 2017.
      Click here: https://www.projectrecover.org/family-shares-mia-research/

  2. Couldn’t find anything on possible human remains which in the end is much more significant than the aircraft. At least, it seems to me that the airmen who gave their precious lives for our liberty could be identified if known.

    Many tks for all your great work.

    Would you be interested in my research in locating the fate of a B29 pilot who went down with his aircraft near Japan in early Aug 45 after getting crew out? And never got the appropriate decoration.

    1. Hello William, thank you for the interest in our MIA project.
      The discovery of the aircraft is a step in the process to determine if it is in fact a gravesite! The most important aspect of our work is the MIA and their family.
      Please send some additional intel on this B-29 pilot to media@ProjectRecover.org
      Blue Skies,
      dan

  3. So tragic yet absolutely beautiful that you and your team found them. Congratulations. Thank you for not giving up on the great men and women that continually protect out great nation.

  4. Must have just watched an old episode of Expedition Unknown documenting your first American plane you located. It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon here in FL so I had the time to check and see if others had been founded. So glad to see the progress and two more located. Thank goodness for heroes like you to pursue this difficult and overdue search. I was spellbound and was rooting for you. I wish I had a million dollars to donate to you. I was hoping that you were able to find something the families of the flyers could consider “their loved one was coming home”. I wish you all the luck in the world, and hoping some of the money that is being wasted on so many pathetic causes today, can be directed toward your project. My Grandfather was in WWI, my Father was in WWII and my Step-Father was in Korea. Thank you, again Jeannie Speakman

    1. Jeannie, thank you for following our work, taking the time to share some words of encouragement, and sharing your military connection through the inspiring service of your grandfather, father, and step-father. Please stay tuned for updates, our 2024 missions will be underway soon!

  5. Hello Project Recovery and Expedition Unknown

    Imagine the thunderous cheer of the game winning touchdown; that is my livingroom when you found the planes. We are a military family, traced back to Civil War. We are so touched and full of respect that you are giving closure to families. Way to go, and may you find all the resources you need to continue your mission.

    We were choked up when you presented a marker for the memorial. I would like to find out the name of the poem on the dedication to those lost in the lagoon.

    With great respect,

    Margaret Hawk and family.

    1. Hi Margaret, Thank you for sharing your story and kind words! The poem is “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon.