Families seek return of remains
An explorer has found a plane that crashed in India during WWII
BURLINGTON, Vt. » The families of eight U.S. military men who died in a 1944 plane crash in the Himalayas want the Pentagon to step up efforts to recover their remains from the crash site discovered last year by a mountaineer.
Exactly what happened to the B-24 bomber -- dubbed Hot as Hell -- was a mystery for more than 60 years. It disappeared while on a flight from Kunming, China, to Chabua, India, to pick up weapons and other supplies and return to base in China.
Clayton Kuhles of Prescott, Ariz., a mountaineer who has made it his mission to search out crash sites along a route so deadly pilots called it the Aluminum Trail, found the wreck last December near Damrah, a village of 200 in northeastern India.
"I was so elated," Larry Zaetz said about hearing the plane that carried his older brother had been found. "To suddenly know that my brother's remains were within human reach, I just went through the ceiling."
But now Zaetz and other relatives say they've been frustrated by what they see as the Defense Department's slowness to send a team to India to retrieve crew members' remains.
Maj. Brian DeSantis, a spokesman for Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, in Hawaii, said he doubted such an effort would be launched anytime soon. He blamed political instability in the region and said the needed approvals from Indian government ministries, requested nearly a year ago, have not been granted.
"Once the area is deemed safe and we have the permissions, we'll follow up on this pretty quickly," DeSantis said.
Zaetz noted India is a U.S. ally, and he called reports of instability in the region out of date.
"I thought our motto was 'Leave no one behind,'" he said. "How can you treat military personnel like this? It's unbelievable. This is not to be accepted."
Larry Zaetz's son Gary was surfing the Internet in June when he decided to punch his uncle's name, 1st Lt. Irwin "Zipper" Zaetz of Burlington, into the Google search engine. He pulled up Kuhles' Web site, miarecoveries.org.
"He reported he had discovered a plane wreck," Gary Zaetz said. "He'd also done some heavy-duty documentary research on the aircraft so we knew it had to be the one that belonged to the crew that included my uncle."
The Web site include 16 photos of debris from the plane, which is believed to have hit the side of a mountain at about 9,000 feet altitude.
"I knew I couldn't rely on the U.S. government to put the information out, so I put it up on my Web site," Kuhles said. "I was hoping some relatives of the crew members would discover the Web site, and bingo -- that's what happened."
DeSantis said JPAC typically does up to 50 recoveries a year and plans them a year ahead of time.
"There are 88,000 people still missing from different wars," he said. "We can't go to all the places at once. We make decisions based on the best information we have."