Unearthing Ancient Crash Sites: American and Russian Teams Search Out Wrecks in Kamchatka
Let's move on to the other side of the country. Here's is a map of the Primorsky Krai region, marking the Lazurnaya Bay and Novosysoevka village, Lysaya Mountain and Vesely Settlement. For the last two weeks, with the assistance of the Ministry of Defense of Russia, these places got searched by Americans in quest of missing US Air Force pilots.
Our correspondent in Vladivostok Ksenia Kolchina is reporting on when they disappeared.
It was planned to move there by helicopter, but it wouldn't land in the impassable woods. So we have to cut the way for the powerful Ural through the taiga. An American search team is in the truck. Ten military historians and archaeologists are ready to go all over Primorye to find the crash sites of the US Air Force during the Second World War and then the Korean War. They are guided by the scouts of Primorye. Americans spent with them more than one evening, spotting on the map possible crash areas. Now we are heading to one of them, climbing the Lysaya Mountain.
Four hours in the taiga in an off-road truck, and then another half a kilometer up the steep mud volcano, to get to the crash site. Here is a fragment of the landing gear, wing wreckage is over there. Search teams found this place long ago, but the story of the plane is still unknown.
— Douglas-3? DC-3?
But still no, this is not an American Douglas. Most likely, it's its Soviet replica, a Li-2 military transport aircraft. The truest proof is the marking. With a brush, archaeologists carefully clean the serial numbers on the details.
Sergei Balkin, Aviapoisk search unit: «0, S, T, N, L, G ...»
There is no doubt: it's engraved in Cyrillic.
Sergei Balkin: «The most likely and frequent reason is harsh weather conditions. It caught the edge of the slope with a wing and went to pieces along the slope diagonally. According to eyewitnesses, it was in 1953».
Who was on the plane and where to, for what purpose was it flying? These are the questions for Primorsky Aviapoisk now. The American expedition is moving on. Its main goal is to find a bomber shot down during the Korean War. In 1951, an American reconnaissance aircraft P2V Neptune incurred into Soviet airspace. The intruder was shot down by a pair of La-11 fighters. The military drama took place just over Primorye, and the plane, according to official documents, fell into the Sea of Japan.
Chris Forbes, US Department of Defense: «The aircraft was used for reconnaissance purposes, in particular, to locate the radars of the Soviet air defense system. We assume that its crew members could be here. We found the families of the deceased pilots and collected their DNA samples».
The remains of the aircraft can not be found in any way, so can the crew members stop being considered missing? Thus, on the next day, the expedition goes to another area of the Primorsky Krai region, to a rural cemetery in Novosysoevka. Many years ago, one of the villagers shared his memories. In the years of the crash, an American pilot allegedly got into a hospital nearby, and this is an important clue for the search team. Maybe he's buried here, too? Georadar will facilitate the search. Electromagnetic waves will probe the soil, revealing whether there is something in the ground below. But first one needs to clean the site with rakes and machetes. The place, the coordinates of which were determined with the help of a navigational system, was long overgrown with grass and shrubs, while the device can work only on a flat surface.
Brian Hanks, professor at Pittsburgh University: «Based on historical information, we are looking for emptiness or graves the location of which is different from the rest».
The Americans had already come to Primorye to search for Neptune back in the 1990s, but then they were a false track, taking the remains of a Catalina plane for a broken bomber. In 1945, the former crashed into the hills near Vladivostok in a fog. The crash site had already been searched thoroughly by Primorye search teams. They installed a memorial plaque with the names of the crew members on it. But this time, the US team re-combed the terrain once again. The plane is American, after all, maybe they'll find anything new?
Those flying boats were lend-leased by the USA during the Second World War. Soviet pilots received the amphibious aircraft in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It's just where our Primorye search teams are going to work in October, with a return visit from the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Andrei Taranov, Russian Ministry of Defense: «We have no problems in cooperation, both sides understand that this is a humanitarian mission, and we think that other actors will adopt this experience in the relations with the United States».
The American expedition has completed its search in Primorye and comes back home. The relatives of the missing pilots are waiting for the news from them. All the material collected in two weeks will be meticulously checked in laboratories and archives. And then they will sum up the results. And then again, the time will come to set off. The search for the Neptune will continue in Kamchatka.
Ksenia Kolchina, Anton Gvozdetsky, Vadim Telegin, Vesti — Saturday News, Primorsky Krai.