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|Pilot 2nd Lt. Joel Dean Zabel, O-425054 (MIA / KIA) Denver, CO
Crashed November 1, 1942
Next, assigned to the 35th Fighter Group, 41st Fighter Squadron. No known nose art or nickname.
Returning, the Airacobra formation encountered a weather front that closed in. The base of the overcast was at 1,000' with the top at roughly 28,000'. The formation became separated in the clouds at 26,000'. This Airacobra was last seen entering the overcast over the Owen Stanley Mountains and failed to return. Also lost was P-400 Airacobra AP367 piloted by 1st Lt. Ingram.
On March 30, 1988 a team from US Army CILHI led by Benny Woodard with two locals from Saunom village landed by helicopter, at a helipad cleared by locals. At the site, he discovered the aircraft's serial number: AP266 on the tail wreckage and the name "Lt Miller" painted in black below and forward of the tail section. On March 31, 1988 team members Tommy Baughman, Sgt Bunch and PNG Museum modern history curator Bruce Hoy joined them on site. Their visit confirmed the serial number and recommended the site for further excavation before departing by helicopter.
Bruce Hoy adds:
Recovery of Remains
On May 22, 1991 the team returned and laid out a grid area over the site, which included an impact crater and the propeller. When this area was excavated, a single femur leg bone was found at 1:35pm. Also, the dataplate from the cockpit was located, further confirming the serial number as AP266.
On May 23, 1991 the team continued searching. Hoy found a 45 caliber pistol magazine at 7:45am. The engine and 20mm cannon were also unearthed, and nose art on the nose near the shell ejection ports.
On May 24, 1991 additional digging in the impact crater and down the nearby slope was done, before the site was officially closed at 10.00am after a short ceremony.
The single bone recovered was transported to CILHI and tested against mDNA provided by family members. During 1992, the Department of Defense (DoD) officially identified the remains as belonging to Zabel.
After the identification of Zabel's femur, his relatives requested his remains be cremated and were laid to rest on July 17, 1999 in his parent's grave in Brea, California.
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