P-MAN VII Final Report
Finding, identifying and documenting one new American crash site (an Avenger wing, unknown BuNo) in a mangrove swamp on the west coast of Aimeliik State 05MAR05 and following up with an interview with a local Palauan whose father may have witnessed this crash and the subsequent beheading of an American POW from this crash, 14-15MAR05.
During our survey around Babeldaob (see Attachment 10), on 01MAR05 we met and spoke with the chief of Aimeliik, Chief Rengulbai Brikul and his son, J. Brikul, in their village. In spite of an ongoing wake, they kindly agreed to speak with us.
The chief was 28 years old when WWII ended. Questioned by Flip Colmer, the chief recalled, without specifics, of 1) hearing about one plane crashing "in Aimeliik" with one parachute, 2) hearing about one plane landing in shallow area with no parachute (? now gone) and 3) possibly hearing about 3 POWs being brought from Yap to Ngatpang, being delivered there to a Japanese general with two stars. We thanked them all for making time for our interview.
After we left, we received a call from this chief, telling us to meet with two local hunters, Jason and Pat, who would take us to a "skoki" (aircraft) site in the mangroves. On 05MAR05, we met Jason and Patrick at the Ngchemiangel pier near the Power Plant and we traveled by boat to a shoreline where we beached the boat (next to former President Nakamura's summer home). We then climbed a hill and walked above and along the edge of a mangrove (NOTE: the area is loaded with poison tree!). The guides took us down the crest and entered the mangrove (reportedly another area favored by saltwater crocodiles). After going approximately 50 yards north, we came across a wing structure, lying approximately north-south with the outer end wedged in the groove between two branches of a mangrove tree. This structure appears to be the outer one half of the starboard wing. It was reasonably intact, with blue paint visible on the dorsal surface and white paint on the ventral surface with a star-and-bar (6-3, 6-4). The leading edge slot (for better airflow to the aileron) was present. No identifying numbers were seen. On the ventral surface, the two leading edge outermost attachment points (of four) remained in place and, inside the star was a hatch (6-6, 6-7) with the words: "WARNING Disconnect Antenna . Before .ing Antenna" (no obvious antenna was seen). The inner aspect of the wing structure was jagged; no landing gear or wing machine gun was observed, consistent with the "break" occurring distal to these features (6-8, 6-9). While the ventral skin was intact, approximately the inner third of the corresponding dorsal skin was gone; this dorsal area at the wing appeared to have burned (6-4), possibly as a result of an explosive separation. No other aircraft debris in at least a 25 yard radius was observed. Overall, this outer wing structure is most consistent with that of a TBM/TBF Avenger.
We were not able to obtain a GPS signal at the wing site, necessitating my climbing the tallest hill nearby. The wing cannot be seen from either our entry point into the mangrove or from the hilltop.
Jason and Patrick said more of the aircraft might lie in a direction to the northwest of the wing but they were not certain. We searched the area approximately one hour and then performed a flag ceremony after photographing the wing (6-2). This being a US Navy crash site, Flip Colmer retained the flags.
Because of the possibility of more aircraft debris in the mangroves, we returned on 07MAR05 from the northwest by boat. We surveyed the bay area without finding any debris from the boat. (NOTE: A metal detector for surveying the shallow sandy bay would be useful.) We dismounted into shallow water and entered the mangroves. We spread out in a north-south line over 30 yards and moved west for about 150 yards. The mangroves were moderately dense but we found no new debris west of the wing (6-10, 6-11, 6-12). Joe had serious concerns about disturbing crocodiles during our search, although we did not see any. But when Joe gets nervous, so do we.
On 11MAR05, while interviewing Palauan elders, we came across one Palauan, Mr. Singeo, who had escaped from Koror to Aimeliik during the American aerial bombing attacks in the summer of 1944. He said Palauans used to hunt for food with air guns - and one day his air gun broke. He was told an American plane was in the mangroves of NW Aimeliik, from which he might find a part for his air gun. He had been told that the air plane had been destroyed, after dropping a bomb, by the bomb blast. He found the crash site and removed a machine gun from the left wing but found no useful parts [NOTE: the wing we found was from the starboard side.]. He said he thought most of the airplane was there with the engine and the propeller but he did not look around (and he saw no bodies). He said there was enough of the airplane present for him to hide under when Americans flew over - notably the crash site he described was more exposed, by description, than where this starboard wing lies today. This could mean he was in a different place (different crash site) or that over the past 60 years, the mangroves have extended into the bay - See ATTACHMENT 11, Interview 22.
While we had made some progress during P-MAN VII in characterizing this debris field, at this point all we had was an unidentified Avenger outer wing section. On 14MAR05, we interviewed Fuana Ngireratechekii at the Bureau of Public Safety (Fish and Wildlife Protection Office), as we had been told she had "a story." Indeed, she did have a story: during the war, one day her father was hunting crab on a point of land in northwest Aimeliik (he had to hide from the Japanese as such food hunting was illegal). Fuana said he often told the story of seeing an American aircraft hit by guns (AAA), spin down (her expression) and crash out in the ocean. He also saw a single airman parachute into the bay and swim to the shore. She said, at that time, Japanese had installations on several hills along the northern coast of Aimeliik. When the airman made it to shore, three Japanese "with long knives" immediately approached him near the shoreline and forced him to kneel before them. The father said he heard the airman "begging for his life", but they quickly "sliced" (cut) his head off. He saw the head roll down the hill, while the body jerked around. He watched as they kicked the body into a shallow grave or hole, by description near where he got out of the water. On more than one occasion after the war, the father had pointed out this area to Fuana. This event troubled the father all the rest of his life. He told Fuana he felt guilty for not trying to help the American but he held back as he was the sole provider for his family. Fuana agreed to show us the site the next day.
On 15MAR05 (in between our packing to leave), we picked up Fuana and her husband at T-dock and took her by boat up the west side of Babeldaob (6-13); Mike Olds conducted her video interview. We were stunned to have her guide us right into the bay near the Avenger wing we had found the prior week (we had not linked her story to our find). From mid-bay on the boat, she pointed northwest toward the ocean on a heading of 300-330º, saying that was where her father said the plane spun in, perhaps within a mile from the bay. She showed us the point where her father had hidden and witnessed this execution. She also showed us the hill where her father had seen the airman killed. She said that her family owns all the land around this area and that, when she was a young girl, the "execution" hill had not been covered with the fern grass now present. As with Mr. Singeo, she confirmed that the mangroves had also grown out from the base of the hills into the bay.
Fuana and her husband mentioned that they heard that some aircraft debris may have been salvaged (or attempted to be salvaged) from the mangroves in this area but she was uncertain when or by whom. She also pointed out another area where a crashed plane used to be, not easily approachable by boat (western point of bay), but we could see no obvious debris field (See 6-16). She also mentioned that her husband's cousin, Hubert may know where an aircraft was shot down between Aimeliik and Melekeok (she said she would ask about that).
While we were in this bay, we saw a sunken barge from the boat in approximately 25-30 feet of water. Review of the 14MAY47 American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) report indicates that a LAT/LONG was reported just south of this area - the actual site could be anywhere within a 1-2 mile radius of this waypoint because of differing map coordinate systems. In any event, this AGRS crash site was not reported associated with any MIA.
We plan to spend more time next year at this site, primarily focusing on the "execution hill" location. We will have to think about best approaches to the base of the hill and how to handle the 5 foot high grass in looking for a possible grave site. Fuana said her family would be willing to cooperate in this search. Furthermore, our finding the outer wing section is consistent with Fuana's father's story of seeing the plane spin in out into the ocean within in a mile of the bay. A side scanning sonar could be useful to search that area, especially if the aircraft seen was an Avenger, as two more crew men could possibly still be on board (one parachute seen). Mr. Singeo's story is less consistent (although not inconsistent) with this site and we need to make sure he is not describing yet another crash site.
While in Palau, Mark Noah
initiated a review of possible aircraft and MIA crews, who might be associated
with this crash site - this review is still ongoing. That Fuana's father saw one
airman and one parachute could mean that 1) one crewmember got out of the Avenger,
2) he only saw one of possibly three parachutes or 3) he saw a different aircraft
unassociated with the wing we found.
Page last modified 21 August 2005