Hickam crew’s helicopter
crashes in New Guinea

The pilot is dead and three are hurt during
a forensic search for American servicemen

Three Americans searching for the wreckage of a World War II bomber were slightly injured yesterday when the helicopter in which they were passengers crashed off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

The pilot, an Australian man, was killed when the helicopter crashed into the sea minutes after takeoff near the town of Lae.


The men were part of a 13-member crew from the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, one of the world's most respected forensic facilities, located at Hickam Air Force Base. The CILHI team left Hickam last Friday on a 45-day excavation and recovery mission, hoping to find the remains of nine servicemen who were killed in October 1943 when their B-24D bomber crashed.

Army Capt. Paul Royle, CILHI team leader, and Sgt. 1st Class James Elezie, a team sergeant, escaped major injuries.

Gregory Fox, a CILHI forensic anthropologist, is being held for observation at Angau Memorial Hospital in the city of Lae.

Also escaping injury was a representative from the Papua New Guinea National Museum whose identity was not immediately released.

Ginger Couden, CILHI spokeswoman, said the Lama high-altitude helicopter took off from Lae, in Morobe province in northeastern Papua New Guinea.

It was on its way to the suspected crash site in the mountains at an elevation of 10,800 feet near Yalumet Village. Couden said the weather was good when the helicopter crashed into the Solomon Sea about 600 feet from the coast near Lae.

"The helicopter had just taken off," she said, "and was a few minutes into the flight when it crashed" at approximately noon Hawaii time yesterday.

Couden said she believed this was the group's first survey mission before it moved all personnel and equipment to the crash site. All excavation and recovery missions have been suspended, and the Army team will return home, Couden added.

This is the first crash involving only CILHI personnel.

On April 7, 2001, one CILHI mortuary affairs specialist was killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam that took the lives of six other Americans and nine Vietnamese recovery specialists.

The six other Americans were members of Joint Task Force-Full Accounting, which suffered its first fatality since it began searching for servicemen missing from the Vietnam War.

Couden said this was the second time a CILHI team had been to Papua New Guinea this year. The first survey was in January.

CILHI investigators visited the B-24 crash site in November and discovered human remains and personal effects, including ID tags. The four-engine B-24 bomber is believed to have belonged to the 43rd Bomb Group of the 63rd Bomb Squadron.


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