WWII remains found in Fiji to be ID'd at Hickam
SUVA, Fiji » The remains of a U.S. fighter pilot have begun a long journey home from a deep jungle ravine in Fiji, 64 years after his airplane disappeared during a World War II sortie.
A 12-member team from the Oahu-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command accepted the remains of the man -- whose identity the U.S. Air Force has yet to reveal -- Wednesday from the residents of remote Naivucini village, on Fiji's main island, Viti Levu.
"There is a family back in the United States that's been missing a family member for the last 60 years," Ambassador Larry Dinger, U.S. envoy in Fiji, told the villagers during an emotional ceremony that left villagers teary-eyed.
"Thanks to your effort, this family will now be able to close a sad chapter of their lives, and that's very important," Dinger said.
When the pilot and his single-seat P-39 fighter disappeared during a mission on April 22, 1942, no traces were found despite an aerial search that lasted four days, U.S. officials said.
Some 62 years later, on Aug. 28, 2004, Sailosi Delana and his cousin Paula Cagidomo stumbled upon the wreckage while hunting for wild boar.
Team commanding officer Maj. Albert Tabarez and anthropologist Joan Baker agreed after viewing the site that the pilot could not have survived the crash. His dog tag was not recovered, but personal effects including a ring and a wallet containing a washed-out photo were found, according to locals.
U.S. officials believe they know the pilot's identity, but are not releasing his name or other details until the remains are identified through DNA tests and the family is informed.
Tabarez said the pilot's identity will be confirmed at a laboratory at Hickam Air Force Base.