PORT MORESBY, June 30 AAP - When American missionary Mark Reichmann and his
son Jared are not preaching the gospel to remote Papua New Guinea villagers the
pair are scouring muddy terrain for World War II wrecks.
Last month the father-son team made the historic discovery of an RAAF Hudson
bomber that was shot down by the Japanese in PNG during fighting some 66 years
But the find was no fluke or hand of god for these amateur WWII buffs. Their search began more than a year ago and came after many failed attempts to locate the twin-engined bomber, built by Lockheed in the United States.
The Reichmanns finally spotted the Hudson's wreckage in thick jungle on a
ridge inland from the town of Gasmata, less than 100km south of West New
Britain (WNB) capital Kimbe.
Mark Reichmann, 52, from the New Tribe Mission, said via satellite phone his
family didn't have much else to do when not teaching the bible to villagers so
they regularly leave their remote Kandrian station in WNB and search for WWII
"We hear a story and for family outings we've just started going out
tracking down airplane crashes or just anything, tanks, graves or caves that
still have WWII rations in them.
"We've found eight Japanese airplanes in the area and we found an American P-38 fighter and we've found two sunken Japanese ships," he said.
"This find of the Hudson is like a golden grail but if I could help a family or bring closure to a loss, I just feel really honoured," he said.
Mr Reichmann said they couldn't have made the discovery without the help of local Au village leader Daniel Kovi who led the team along an hour and half drive, followed by a 30 minute bulldozer ride, then a two hour trek up and down valleys to the crash site.
"The locals landowners are very helpful and without them we couldn't have
made this find," he said.
The team alerted Australian officials and the RAAF began a mission to confirm the wreck was plane A16-126, lost with four crew on February 11, 1942, when flying with two other bombers attacking Japanese shipping at Gasmata harbour, WNB.
Wing Commander Michael Warby, RAAF deputy director and coordinator, said they were still trying to contact one family from the four man crew before a full recovery operation can begin.
"The next team that will go up to identify remains will be about seven people. "We are hoping to start early October but as it is a sensitive issue there is a lot depending," he said.
Warby said under Australian law any WWII bodies recovered would go to the nearest commonwealth cemetery which for the Hudson crew is the Bitapaka Allied War Cemetery near Rabaul, East New Britain.
Head of the Australian Defence Staff in PNG, Colonel Luke Foster, thanked the Reichmanns for their efforts.
"They've been very good in assisting us and we are very appreciative of their work," he said.
"This is absolutely a significant find if you think it's 66 years on and without them it'd still be missing."
Foster said under local laws the wreck will remain in PNG.
Four men were lost with the Hudson - Flying Officer Graham Ian Gibson, Pilot Officer Frank Leslie Oliver Thorn, Sergeant Barton Irving Coutie, and Sergeant Arthur Edward Quail.