NEW: Finding, identifying and
documenting one new American crash site (a partial TBM-1C Avenger crash site,
unknown BuNo) in a mangrove swamp on the east coast of Peleliu (Target 6).
will say this was the easiest crash site we have ever found, since on the day
we went to look for it, we found it in the jungle right where we thought it would
be within an hour of our starting. Upon reflection however, we probably spent
more time on finding this site, before we ever
started hiking, than any other (with the exception of B24 '453 - see P-MAN VI
and P-MAN VII reports).
While investigating the crash site
of another Avenger on Peleliu (see ATTACHMENT 8 below), the team knew from prior
archival searches that a second Avenger had gone down on Peleliu somewhere. In
fact, it was only after we completed our search for the first Avenger's debris
field that we knew the second Avenger was somewhere else on Peleliu and not superimposed
with the first: during P-MAN VII we confirmed that there must be a second separate
Avenger crash site.
Upon return to the US, we began intensive
research of the archival records.
A. Background for Search
the past fourteen years, the members of the BentProp Project have studied the
records in Washington, DC at the US National Archives and Records Administration
to determine how many American aircraft were lost throughout Palau and, in particular,
in the Peleliu area. From our research, we have determined that four American
aircraft, not yet discovered, crashed on Peleliu in combat during the period of
March to September 1944, all of which are associated with MIAs - meaning that
their remains were never recovered. Other aircraft associated with MIAs may also
have been lost around Peleliu for which records as yet have not been located.
Such aircraft, because of their associated MIAs are separate from the large mixed
collections of Japanese and American aircraft debris, not associated with MIAs,
which exist on Peleliu in at least six locations (see map in ATTACHMENTS of all
aircraft sites identified by the BentProp Project) .
four aircraft and their crews include:
- TBM1C Avenger from
VT-51, USS San Jacinto, 15 September 44
- SB2C1 Helldiver From VB-2, USS
Hornet, 30 March 44
- F6F5 Hellcat from VF-13, USS Franklin, 10 September
- F6F5 Hellcat from VF-13, 10 September 44
our research, the two F6F Hellcats appear to have crashed near the Peleliu runway
and may have been salvaged during or immediately after the battle, by either Japanese
or American forces. Large boneyards still exist on Peleliu and we cannot help
but wonder if one of these is the final resting place for one or more of these
aviators. While finding these two Hellcats and their aviators is unlikely, our
Of the other two aircraft, only the Avenger,
with a crew of three, was seen to crash onto Peleliu. The specific location of
the Helldiver's loss was not reported. The squadron's After Action Report states
two parachutes were seen to open and land in the water near the eastern shore
of Peleliu - Peleliu elders convey stories of seeing two parachutes during that
time, as well as these Americans being captured, although their fate remains unknown.
This is still under our investigation and this crew remains on our MIA/POW list.
The Avenger was reported to crash in AREA 130 (Gunnery Target
Map for Peleliu) which lies on the eastern side of the North-South Runway. Based
on date, time and location, this same Avenger's crash was recorded on both still
camera and motion picture film which still exist at the US National Archives and
Records Administration. This photographic and film footage evidence has been located
and reviewed by members of the BentProp Project. Analysis of the photographic/film
evidence predicted a possible search area on eastern Peleliu, most likely in the
mangroves. [NOTE: The BentProp Project has a crew list and Bureau Number for this
aircraft but because this is under investigation as a possible MIA site, we have
agreed with JPAC not to release the crew names or aircraft identifier. This crew
was from the same squadron as then-Ensign, and future US President, George Herbert
Walker Bush. However, having been shot down over Chichi Jima a few days before,
ENS Bush did not participate in Operation STALEMATE II. In 2003, several members
of the BentProp Project had the honor of privately meeting and discussing our
work in Palau with former President Bush.]
of this crash and its approximate location on Peleliu includes:
Action reports from the USS San Jacinto and Squadron VT-51 (US Navy Torpedo Bomber
- Still Photographs
- Motion Picture Film Footage
with living VT-51 veterans on that mission.
of R. Stinnett
Left: Ensign George H. W. Bush in VT51 Avenger, 1944. Courtesy of R. Stinnett
Former President George H. W. Bush with Pat Scannon, 2003 © T. Krasny, 2006
Airfield, Post-invasion, June 1945 Under American Control
The US Military extended the runway 2061 feet and built east road along runway
members of the BentProp Project respectfully requested and received permission
from the Governor of the State of Peleliu and the Palauan Historical Preservation
Office to do the following:
Conduct a search mission
east of the East Road for the TBM1C of
(redacted), lost in combat 15 September
44 along east side of
(Peleliu, redacted) near mangroves. This mission
would include a) interviews of Peleliu elders to determine if the crash site has
been seen by Palauans after WWII ended and b) searching east of
This predicted search zone might be adjusted a little as a result of input from
our interviews of the Peleliu elders).
If the BentProp Project team locates
an Avenger debris field, we then propose to review the area to determine if the
Avenger wreckage is a single crash site (which would suggest this is
or part of a larger debris field with other aircraft (which would suggest this
area is another aircraft junk yard and less relevant). As part of this field review,
we will conduct a search for a US Navy Bureau of Aeronautics aircraft number (on
tail of aircraft or in cockpit areas), which would identify the aircraft and crew.
We will also search for evidence of specific squadron markings on the wreckage
. As part of this review, the Team also, as appropriate, will
a) collect relevant GPS coordinates, b) map the debris fields and c) photograph
key findings for documentation purposes.
The BentProp Project team estimated
between one and two days to complete the terms of this proposal.
Project also proposed to write a report before leaving Palau (17 March 06) to
share all of our findings with Governor Jackson (Ngiraingas), the Palauan Historical
Preservation Office, U. S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and the US
Naval Historical Center (NHC).
The team traveled by boat from Neco Marine and landed
on the north Dock. Tangie drove us then to the general area. The team split into
three search patterns from the East Road:
- Joe went 50-100
meters E of suspected area and headed S
- Pat and Reid started N of suspected
area, in jungle and headed S
- Dan and Mike started S of suspected area
into the jungle and headed N.
Both sides of the East
Road were explored. Dan and Mike rapidly found an aircraft debris field off to
the the East and the team then re-assembled near that site. The first question
to answer was: was this a combat loss or a boneyard of mixed debris?
most of the team began searching the immediate area around the debris field, Pat
and Joe continued searching to the Southeast from the aircraft field and to the
West across the East Road. This led to discovery of a collection of mixed aircraft
parts 120-80 meters to the Southeast of the above aircraft field. No other aircraft
fields were found inside of the 50 meter radius perimeter of Dan's and Mike's
discovery. Thus the field within that crash site appears NOT to be contaminated
by other adjacent aircraft parts.
Because the team is limited
to superficial investigations only, out of respect for these archeological sites,
our investigation must be considered preliminary until appropriate investigation
by JPAC can be made. This situation is similar to the FM-2 Wildcat site we found
during P-MAN VI, which remains closed pending JPAC evaluation. The Team's preliminary
assessment of the superficial area of the aircraft field around is characterized
by the following observations:
- This field is made up of
a substantial, but incomplete, portion of a single Avenger Torpedo Bomber, which
held a three man crew.
- A combination of the Team's ground search and scanning,
using a Minelab1000 Excalibur metal detector, indicates that additional metal
may be found underneath this immediate area, although no attempts were made to
- The field consists of three major adjacent sub-fields (see
field drawing in ATTACHMENT): a) engine with main landing gear #1, b) main landing
gear #2 and c) outer port wing - all within a 25 meter diameter; several additional
smaller sub-fields also lie within this diameter. [NOTE: the two main landing
gear assemblies, the outer leading edge slot on the wing and the engine assembly
with Hamilton-Standard propeller are only consistent with an Avenger.]
aluminum framework, with fragments of plexiglass, was found between the engine
and the second main landing gear.
- Parts consistent with the rear .50 cal
machine gun turret were found between the second main landing gear and the wing.
several rounds of expended and unexpended .50 cal and .30 cal ammunition were
found within this field, none of the three .50 cal nor the .30 cal machine guns
were found in the ground search.
- The tail wheel assembly, a substantial
collection of electrical equipment and other debris (including a portion of the
engine) were found lying on top of the port wing
field (contrasting with Avenger 19656 recovery operations in 2005) lies within
a small area (25 meter diameter) and is consistent with a vertical crash (known
to have occurred for the avenger in question).
- No empennage, which would
have the painted USN BuNo, was located from the ground search (possibly the tail
separated from the fuselage, which would be consistent with the vertical crash).
Likewise, no cockpit BuNo identification plate was located in the ground search.
field does not appear to be contaminated by parts from any other aircraft.
gain a more detailed sense of this field, the three sub-fields are characterized
by the following observations. In the discussion, note that when objects are referenced
by a "letter" designation, e.g., "A," the letter refers to
a hand-drawn map of the debris field that appears farther down on this page.
with Main Landing Gear #1: The R2600 engine, used in Avengers, is the most
visually obvious aspect of the entire field. The cylinder stack lies approximately
vertically, with several of the 14 cylinder heads (two rows of seven) missing
[NOTE: some found lying within the 25 meter crash diameter]. The forward crankcase
housing is shattered and bent forward, along with the propeller shaft, approximately
30º [NOTE: part of this crankcase housing with an attached aluminum plate
was found near the wing (see below)]. The Hamilton-Standard propeller remains
attached to the engine via its shaft, with two bent blades present on or near
the ground, while the third blade (in the most superior position) is sheared off
at its base and is missing. As one faces the front of the propeller, the left
propeller blade's outer tip (approximately 2 feet) is snapped off and lies separately
near the engine. Both blade tips (the one on the right blade remaining intact)
retain remnants of yellow paint. The propeller spinner is fractured open but at
least one spinner piece lies separately nearby. This spinner has a yellow painted
stripe or band at its base, approximately 4 inches wide (NOTE: This may be a VT-51
squadron marking - see below). As one looks at the front of the propeller, along
side and in front of the right propeller blade, lays a partially complete main
landing gear assembly (designated #1). Gears, aluminum and other debris lie around
the rear base of the engine.
Landing Gear. #2:
This assembly, characteristic for a TBM Avenger, lies
2 meters to the west of the engine. This assembly appears more complete than #1
and includes the wheel and brake assembly onto which the wheel was inserted. Tire
debris (labeled "A") with a diamond tread pattern lies immediately along
the southern edge of the landing gear on the jungle floor. Two meters to the north
of this landing gear lays a pile of debris with gear and tooth assembly (Labeled
"B"). We believe this is part of the gun turret used to rotate the turret.
In this same immediate area, lies a panel of aluminum with piano wire (labeled
"B1"), which may be part of the bomb bay door. Three meters east of
this area lays a small debris pile with an aileron tab, labeled "D".
Approximately 2 meters to the Southeast of "D" lays a bent aluminum
framework, labeled "C", consistent with being part of the canopy; fragments
of plexiglass remain in the grove of the frame.
photos above © R. Joyce, 2006
Port Wing: This third sub-field is perhaps the most complex area, especially
for a limited ground search. The metal detector suggests more metal may lie under
the ground in this area. The Avenger has a folding outer wing and this wing section
appears to be what remains of the port outer wing. It lies with its ventral surface
up (painted white) and blue-painted aluminum can be seen on the dorsal side from
its jagged edges on either end. Along the Southeastern edge of the wing can be
seen the ventral aspect of the leading edge slot, labeled "G". A square
(~5 inches in each edge) hole, labeled "I", can be seen in the middle
of the wing, with some writing. This is the result of the radar antenna being
ripped from the wing. The antenna shaft still lies in this area. On the northern
end of this wing lies a large pile of mixed electrical and hydraulic debris, labeled
"E". The hard rubber tire (used on aircraft carriers) on the tail wheel
assembly (labeled "F"), also characteristic of a TBM Avenger, lies on
top of the wing. The upside down wing tip, labeled "H" also lies on
topmost part of this pile of debris. A piece of the forward crank case housing
from the engine area was found immediately along the west side of the wing. This
piece has an aluminum plate still intact and attached. The surface of the plate
is blackened and pitted in the middle (? melted) but letters and numbers can still
be seen - suggesting that with appropriate cleaning, some information concerning
the engine might be determined. Also in this same area (western edge of wing),
a spoon, stamped with "USN" on the front side of the handle and "STAINLESS
STEEL" on the back of the handle, was found.
Additional Parts (labeled "L" through
"Q"): As noted on the drawing of the field (below), a number of other
smaller parts lie near or outside the three sub-fields. However, the parts actually
found are small (except for the wing folding hinge at "H") and none
offer any additional identification that we observed.
Parts NOT Found During Ground Search: Some key parts not
found include 1) any component of the empennage (with the BuNo), 2) much of the
fuselage and cockpit (with BuNo), 3) any armament, and 4) the starboard wing.
C. Summary and Working Conclusions:
present, the available evidence supports this site as consistent with a TBM-1C
Avenger lost from VT-51 on 15 September 44 with the crew of three MIAs. However,
definitive evidence was not found.
The evidence for this specific
- The aircraft in this field is an Avenger,
based on characteristic main landing gear, outer wing with leading edge slot and
radar antenna and tail wheel assembly; as well as an engine (R2600) used in Avengers
(although not exclusively).
- No other aircraft parts/debris were observed
within 100 meters of this field so that this appears to be the debris field of
a single aircraft.
- Based on archival footage and photographs showing the
crash of an Avenger on 15 September 44 at a time and place consistent with the
after action report summary and interviews of living squadron members, this Avenger
field falls precisely within the predicted crash area of Avenger in question.
Avenger in question suffered a rapid, vertical descent, which should have resulted
in a compact debris field - this is what was observed with engine, canopy, wing,
tail wheel assembly and turret components all within a 25 meter area.
other Avengers (including from VT-51) are known missing in the immediate area
- The Avenger in this field had a non-standard painted band
around the base of the propeller spinner. Avengers of VT-51 had a band around
their spinners, as seen in the photograph below. One VT-51 veteran in a recent
interview reports that all but one of the VT-51 spinners were painted white, the
exception being TARE-9 (TARE was the squadron call sign, with "X" painted
on the vertical stabilizer), which was painted yellow. So far, we have only been
able to locate black-and-white photos, which confirm the presence of a spinner
the available evidence supports this Avenger
field as being that of the Avenger in question with three MIA crewmen, no specific
aircraft identification was made during this ground search by the BentProp Project
team and no personal effects, other than one spoon, were located.
variety of reasons could explain why no such identification and observations were
made. Concerning the aircraft's specific identification, recent interviews with
surviving members of VT-51 who flew on this mission confirm that the Avenger lost
that day was hit and crashed consistent with the available photos and film footage:
namely, this Avenger experienced a catastrophic event that resulting in almost
instantaneous translation of forward motion into a rapid, vertical (flaming) descent.
Very close review of the photograph above suggests other flaming parts fell separately
from the main body. Loss of the empennage is one explanation which could account
for the sudden vertical descent - and would explain the lack of an empennage at
the crash site. As importantly, because the BentProp Project team's search was
a superficial ground search, the possibility exists (and is suggested by the metal
detector search) that additional parts may lie beneath the surface at or near
this field. In addition, parts of this aircraft may have been covered during the
crash by the observed parts (compressed "accordion-like") or may have
been covered or obscured during the construction of the East Road, which started
some time after 15 September 44 and which aerial photos show was completed by
June 1945 [NOTE: compare 1944 and 1945 photos of Peleliu field above; also comparison
of the East Road from June 1945 to 2006 indicates no apparent change to the road.]
Finally, although this crash site lies in an uninhabited area of Peleliu, this
area is known by the local crab-hunters. Over a period of almost 61 years, the
possibility exists that some parts of this aircraft may have been salvaged.
the absence of personal effects and human remains, several explanations are possible.
First and foremost as noted above, the BentProp Project team conducted a ground
search only. Such a search would not include excavation in and under the large
debris to look for such evidence. Secondly, the very rapid descent resulted in
a focused and explosive impact, which could affect distribution of human remains
and personal effects in an unpredictable manner. Thirdly, it is possible that
remains were located as early as 1945, and in the absence of aircraft and personal
identification, might have been recovered and sent elsewhere as unknowns [NOTE
1: no mention is made of this site in the US Army Graves Registration Unit 1947
report, suggesting they did not recover remains from this site.
NOTE 2: Post-mission,
extensive efforts to determine/fix an association between the yellow propeller
spinner have not added to the information contained herein. Our current assessment
remains that this band was painted on after arrival to VT-51 (making this a unit
NIOTE 3: Numerous GPS readings and maps have necessarily been
deleted from this report, pending investigation].
the archival research predicts the location of a VT-51 Avenger lost along the
East side of Peleliu and the field, at the predicted location, is that of a single
aircraft, an Avenger, possibly from VT-51 (e.g., yellow propeller spinner). As
well, the location and profile of the crash site is consistent with the recent
recollections of living former VT-51 squadron members. The team members of the
BentProp Project, who were present at the site, place a 90% probability that this
Avenger in the Avenger in question and thus may be the site of up to three MIAs
lost as a result of the crash.
Accordingly, the BentProp Project
recommended in a summary document that consideration by the Governor of Peleliu,
the Palauan Historical Preservation Office, JPAC and NHC be given to the high
probability, with all the above noted caveats, that this area may contain the
remains of up to three American airmen, Furthermore, the BentProp project respectfully
requested that the area be appropriately protected until JPAC and other appropriate
American authorities, in coordination with all affected Palauan authorities, review
our findings and make a determination about recovery operations.
the members of the BentProp Project, including those who conducted the ground
search and those who provided technical support in the United States, wish to
express our sincere appreciation to the Governor of Peleliu, the Palauan HPO,
Mr. Tangie Hesus and other Palauan authorities for their support and assistance
in permitting us to conduct and complete this search.
drawing of the Avenger site. © P. Scannon, 2006
ceremony at the new TBM engine.
L-R: Pat, Mike, Reid, Joe, Tangie. ©
D. O'Brien, 2006
Note - In 2008, a JPAC recovery team
conducted a recovery mission at this site. The JPAC team did not recover
remains, but they
did recover sufficient information, including personal effects,
to confirm that the aircraft at this crash site is, as we had previously concluded,
the TBM flown by Francis Waters, with crew members Hyman Atun and Paul Bensman,
which was shot down on 15 September 1944, the first day of the invasion of