A missing World War II plane has been identified in India’s remote Himalayas nearly 80 years after it crashed with no survivors, following a search in a treacherous high-altitude area.
The C-46 transport aircraft was carrying 13 people from Kunming in southern China when it disappeared in stormy weather over a mountainous stretch of Arunachal Pradesh state in the first week of 1945.
“This aircraft was never heard from again. It simply disappeared,” said Clayton Kuhles, a US adventurer who led the mission after a request from the son of one of those on board the doomed flight.
The expedition took months and saw Kuhles and a team of guides from the local Lisu ethnic group ford chest-deep rivers and camp in freezing temperatures at high altitudes.
It was a potentially lethal mission: in 2018 three Lisu hunters had died of hypothermia in the same area when they were caught in an unseasonal September snowstorm, Kuhles said, while two others “barely escaped alive”.
“My Lisu guides and porters were very uneasy about our high camp location,” he added.
But the team finally located the plane on a snow-clad mountain top last month, where they were able to identify the wreckage by the tail number.
There were no human remains in what was left of the craft.
Kuhles was tasked with conducting the search by Bill Scherer, whose officer father was on board when the plane crashed.
“All I can say is that I am overjoyed, just knowing where he is. It is sad but joyous,” Scherer told the AFP news agency by email from New York.
“I grew up without a father. All I can think of is my poor mother, getting a telegram and finding out her husband is missing and she is left with me, a 13-month-old baby boy.”
Hundreds of US military planes went missing around the theatre of operations in India, China and Myanmar during World War II.
While firing from Japanese forces did account for some aircraft losses, Kuhles said the majority are believed to have been brought down by ice damage, hurricane-force winds and other severe weather conditions.