The wreckage of a B-25 bomber documented by Project Recover in the waters of Papua New Guinea.

Two WWII B-25 Bombers Documented by Project Recover Off Papua New Guinea

May 23, 2017 – Two B-25 bombers associated with American servicemen missing in action from World War II were recently documented in the waters off Papua New Guinea by Project Recover—a collaborative team of marine scientists, archaeologists, and volunteers who have combined efforts to locate aircraft and associated MIAs from World War II.

The B-25 bomber is one of the most iconic airplanes of World War II, with nearly 10,000 of the famous warbirds conducting a variety of missions—from bombing to photo reconnaissance, to submarine patrols and the historic raid over Tokyo. Present-day Papua New Guinea was the site of military action in the Pacific from January of 1942 to the end of the war in August 1945, with significant losses of aircraft and servicemen, some of whom have never been found.

In February, a Project Recover team set out on a mission to map the seafloor in search of missing WWII aircraft; conduct an official archaeological survey of a known B-25 underwater wreck; and interview elders in villages in the immediate area.

In its search of nearly 10 square kilometers, Project Recover located the debris field of a B-25 bomber that had been missing for over 70 years, associated with a crew of six MIAs.

“People have this mental image of an airplane resting intact on the sea floor, but the reality is that most planes were often already damaged before crashing, or broke up upon impact. And, after soaking in the sea for decades, they are often unrecognizable to the untrained eye, often covered in corals and other sea-life,” said Katy O’Connell, Project Recover’s Executive Director, who is based at the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. “Our use of advanced technologies, which led to the discovery of the B-25, enables us to accelerate and enhance the discovery and eventual recovery of our missing servicemen.”

Project Recover blends historical and archival data from multiple sources to narrow underwater search regions, then surveys the areas with scanning sonars, high definition imagers, advanced diving, and unmanned aerial and underwater robotic technologies.

“The latest discovery is a result of the dedication and fervent efforts of everyone associated with Project Recover,” said Dan Friedkin, chairman, and CEO of The Friedkin Group and a member of the Project Recover team who provides private funding for the organization. “We are encouraged at the progress that is being made as our search efforts expand and remain committed to locating the resting places of all U.S. servicemen missing since World War II.”

In addition to searching for missing aircraft, Project Recover also conducts archaeological surveys of sites that are known, but not yet documented, like the site of a B-25 bomber that was discovered in Madang Harbor, Papua New Guinea.

“While well known to locals and scuba enthusiasts for over 30 years, this particular B-25 had never been officially surveyed,” said Andrew Pietruszka, a staff scientist with Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, and Project Recover’s underwater archaeologist. Of the six crew associated with the aircraft, five survived the crash but were taken prisoner by the Japanese. The remaining crewmember went down with the plane and is still listed as missing.

“Our team of divers and scientists conducts site surveys to fully document the wreckage. That documentation can then be used by the U.S. government to correlate soldiers still missing in action with the aircraft site we discovered, and to evaluate that site for the possible recovery of remains,” explained Pietruszka.

While the scientific focus of Project Recover is to conduct underwater searches and surveys, equally important are the historical accounts of crashes that are often part of local histories, passed from one generation to another. While speaking to village elders about the two B-25 cases, Project Recover team members were told about local, terrestrial burial sites and an additional aircraft that had crashed on land.

Project Recover provides detailed information about its missions and any discovered wrecks and possible links to airmen listed as missing in action to the Department of Defense’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). DPAA is tasked with recovery and repatriation efforts, including notification of the families of these MIAs.

“Any find in the field is treated with the utmost care, respect, and solemnity,” said O’Connell. “There are still over 73,000 U.S. service members unaccounted for from World War II, leaving families with unanswered questions about their loved ones. We hope that our global efforts can help to bring closure and honor the service of the fallen.”

The mission to Papua New Guinea kicked off Project Recover’s second year of formal operations and was made possible by a substantial financial commitment from Friedkin in 2016. Friedkin’s continued support is helping sustain ongoing missions while enabling the organization to innovate its technology and broaden its search and discovery efforts to focus areas around the world.

In 2016, team members expanded operations, conducting missions in England, New Caledonia, Palau, Saipan, the Solomon Islands, Tinian, and the U.S. in search of over 20 aircraft and 100 service members still missing in action. Five aircraft were successfully identified and documented, with documentation submitted to DPAA. The missions also resulted in new leads, based on field research and personal accounts from locals, which will aid in planning for future missions.

Among other missions around the world, Project Recover plans to return to Papua New Guinea later this year to focus on other cases of interest and further explore leads that developed from the February 2017 mission.

About Project Recover

Project Recover is a public-private partnership to enlist 21st-century science and technology combined with in-depth archival and historical research in a quest to find the final underwater resting places of Americans missing in action since World War II.

Established in 2012 with initial support from the Office of Naval Research and formalized in 2016 with private funding, Project Recover is a partnership among researchers at the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, and The BentProp Project, Limited.

About Dan Friedkin

Dan Friedkin is chairman and CEO of The Friedkin Group, a consortium of automotive, hospitality, entertainment, golf and adventure companies. These organizations include: Gulf States Toyota, GSFSGroup, GS Marketing, US AutoLogistics, Ascent Automotive Group, Auberge Resorts Collection, Imperative Entertainment, Diamond Creek Golf Club, Congaree and Legendary Adventures.

Dan is active in U.S. and global wildlife conservation initiatives as well as various philanthropic initiatives in both aviation and education. He is chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, chairman of the Friedkin Conservation Fund, a trustee of the Wildlife Conservation Society, chairman of the Congaree Foundation, chairman of the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation and an active pilot in Heritage Flight airshows, team member of Project Recover and serves on the advisory board of The Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute.

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Comments 3

  1. I believe this may be my uncles aircraft Russell N. Erum (pilot)

    /////////////////////////////////
    Hi, my name is Edward Lenberg, I am an Airbus A321 captain and have been looking for my uncles missing B-25.
    In regards to the B-25 bomber found in Madang Harbor, Papua New Guinea:

    His AC was on a heading of 300 degrees from the Airfield and if he continued to fly over the mountains on a heading of 300 to Madang Harbor that would be a heading of 300 from the search triangle search zone of (“Lae to Finchafen to Salamaua”)to Madang Harbor to ditch the AC versus crashing in the jungle it would make perfect sense if they had sever mechanical problems as that is what I would do possibly.

    B-25D-10 “The Ringmaster” Serial Number 41-30259
    Pilot 2nd Lt. Russell N. Erum, O-796800 (MIA / KIA) Minneapolis, MN
    Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Mack L Sims, Jr., O-735828 (MIA / KIA) Hedker, TX
    Radio T/Sgt Raymond O. Blair, 39317307 (MIA / KIA) Independence, OR
    Gunner S/Sgt Robert J. Edwards, 39106055 (MIA / KIA) Phoenix, AZ
    Crashed March 26, 1944
    MACR 4496

    Is it possible that I could get the Latitude and Longitude coordinates of the wreckage? Have you Identified any part of the Serial Number or dog tags of any of this crew?
    ////////////////////////////////////////////////
    Here is the “report” and website link:

    https://www.pacificwrecks.com/aircraft/b-25/41-30259.html

    Pacific Wrecks

    Missing In Action (MIA) Prisoners Of War (POW) Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)
    Chronology Locations Aircraft Ships Submit Info

    B-25D-10 “The Ringmaster” Serial Number 41-30259
    USAAF
    5th AF
    345th BG
    499th BS

    Former Assignments
    22nd BG
    2nd BS
    Pilot 2nd Lt. Russell N. Erum, O-796800 (MIA / KIA) Minneapolis, MN
    Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Mack L Sims, Jr., O-735828 (MIA / KIA) Hedker, TX
    Radio T/Sgt Raymond O. Blair, 39317307 (MIA / KIA) Independence, OR
    Gunner S/Sgt Robert J. Edwards, 39106055 (MIA / KIA) Phoenix, AZ
    Crashed March 26, 1944
    MACR 4496

    Aircraft History
    Built by North American. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to Australia.

    Wartime History
    Assigned to the 5th Air Force. During June 1943 assigned to the 22nd Bombardment Group, 2nd Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed “The Ringmaster” with circus nose, plane #1. Regular pilot Barrett and Brittain. First combat mission was on October 14, 1943. Flew at least 46 combat missions over New Guinea. Converted to a strafer variant (B-25D-1) by the 4th Air Depot at Garbutt Field near Townsville.

    On January 31, 1944 assigned to the 345th Bombardment Group, 499th Bombardment Squadron on January 31, 1944. Crew chief was Mottern. When lost, engines R-2600-13 serial numbers 42-77606 and 41-27771. Weapon serial numbers noted in Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 4496.

    Mission History
    On March 26, 1944 took off from Nadzab Airfield No. 3 at 3:50pm on a local transition flight that would return to the same airfield. “This B-25 was last seen after take off flying at 1,000′ heading of roughly 300 degrees.” The weather was visibility unlimited and 5,000′ to 6,000′ ceilings in the Markham Valley area. This aircraft was believed to have crashed in the mountains to the north-east near Nadzab.

    Search
    After failing to arrive at 6pm, it was too dark to conduct a search mission for the 30279missing plane. The next morning, a search by three B-25s took off at 9am and searched the Markham Valley area and bordering mountains and coastline from “Lae to Finchafen to Salamaua”. The planes returned at 11:30am with nil sighting. A second search was flown at 2pm concentrating on the area near the airfield, but returned at 4:30 with nil sighting.

    Memorials
    The entire crew was officially declared dead the day of the mission. All area memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.

    References
    Missing Air Crew Report 4496 (MACR 4496)
    American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) – Russell N. Erum
    American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) – Mack L. Sims Jr.
    American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) – Raymond D. Blair
    American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) – Robert J. Edwards
    FindAGrave – 1Lt “Russell N Erum” (photo, tablets of the missing photo)
    FindAGrave – Mack L Sims, Jr (grave photo)
    PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card – B-25D-1 Mitchell 41-30259
    Revenge of the Red Raiders page 492. 526
    Warpath Across The Pacific page 144, 369, 387

    Contribute Information
    Are you a relative or associated with any person mentioned?
    Do you have photos or additional information to add?

    Last Updated
    February 4, 2018

    Tech Info
    B-25

    Map
    6.17
    146.38

    MIA
    MIA
    4 Missing

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    1. Hello Edward, thanks for contacting us about your Uncle Russell and his loss in PNG. We documented 2 B-25’s in this region of Madang, PNG during a mission in 2017. https://www.projectrecover.org/two-missing-world-war-ii-bombers-documented-by-project-recover-off-papua-new-guinea/
      The data was turned over to DPAA http://www.dpaa.mil/ and we are not at liberty to release that information. All the background research and archival work we did on that region did not show any indications of your Uncle’s B-25 going down in the coastal waters of Madang, PNG.
      We will contact you via email to further explore this discussion on Uncle Russell and his crew.

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