B-24 wreckage

The wreckage of the B-24 “Heaven Can Wait.” Courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Marine scientists with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have located a B-24 bomber shot down in World War II off Papua New Guinea with 11 American servicemen aboard.

The bomber, designed and probably built in San Diego, was discovered by Project Recover — a collaborative team of marine scientists, archaeologists and volunteers who have worked to locate aircraft associated with servicemen missing in action during World War II.

The crew of “Heaven Can Wait” was part of the 320th squadron of the “Jolly Rogers” 90th Bombardment Group and was on a mission to bomb Japanese anti-aircraft batteries around Hansa Bay on March 11, 1944.

In October 2017, a team from Project Recover set out to perform an archaeological survey of Hansa Bay on the northeast coast of Papua New Guinea. The bay is believed to be the final resting place of five American aircraft with 24 aboard during fierce combat.

After 11 days on the water, and a search that covered nearly 17 square miles of the sea floor with scanning sonars, high definition imagers, advanced diving, and unmanned aerial and underwater robotic technologies, Project Recover located the debris field of the B-24 bomber in 213 feet of water.

The details of the crash site have been formally communicated to the U.S. government for its review to potentially set into motion a process for recovering and identifying the remains of up to 11 crew members missing for over 70 years.

“Unique to this mission was the contact by an extended family group associated with ‘Heaven Can Wait’ while our historians were independently researching the loss of their loved one prior to our departure to Papua New Guinea,” said Eric Terrill, co-founder of Project Recover and an oceanographer from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“The results from our efforts in Hansa Bay have stirred a mix of lasting emotions within our team and drives home the need to recognize the sacrifices that service members and their families make in protecting our freedoms,” he added.

Project Recover is a partnership among researchers at the University of Delaware, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the BentProp Project.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.