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  P-400 Airacbora Serial Number AP266  
5th AF
35th FG
41st FS

Former Assignments
8th FG

Pilot  2nd Lt. Joel Dean Zabel, O-425054 (MIA / KIA) Denver, CO
Crashed  November 1, 1942
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Bell in Buffalo, New York. Assigned Royal Air Force (RAF) serial number AP266 and painted in a three-color camouflage scheme. Instead, delivered to the U. S. Army. Disassembled and shipped overseas to Australia and reassembled.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force. Likely, this Airacobra was initially assigned to the 8th Fighter Group to Lt. Miller, whose name was painted in black below and forward of the tail section. Squadron number 175.

Next, assigned to the 35th Fighter Group, 41st Fighter Squadron. No known nose art or nickname.

Mission History
On November 1, 1942 took off from 7 Mile Drome (Jackson) near Port Moresby around noon as part of a formation of Airacobras led by C.O. Doss on a mission to escort three C-47 Dakotas bound for Pongani Airfield.

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.

No search was made for the two missing pilots.

This Airacobra crashed at roughly 2,300' elevation in the Owen Stanley Mountain range near Saunom (Sanoum). During the 1980s, the aircraft was reported to authorities.

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:
"The identification of the pilot was originally made by me from a small radio signal I found tucked away by the Royal Australian Air Force that I had obtained in 1989."

Recovery of Remains
Returning on May 21, 1991 a US Army CILHI team led by Captain Hudson, Dr. Miller, Sgt Robinson, Sgt Coates and PNG Museum modern history curator Bruce Hoy landed on the nearby helipad and walked to the crash site arriving at 1:15pm. During this visit, Hoy found a piece of aluminum skin with "Miller" and "175" painted on them.

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.

Posthumously, Zabel was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and was officially declared dead on December 9, 1945. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery. During May 1999, the Department of Defense (DoD) officially identified his remains and a rosette was placed next to his name, indicating he was recovered.

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.

William Zabel (brother)
Karen L. Coon (niece of Zabel)

41st FS History: "weather closed in and Lt. Ingram and Lt. Zabel became lost, and never returned."
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-400 Airacobra piloted by Zabel
Bruce Hoy Diary 30-31 March 1988
Bruce Hoy Diary 21-24 May 1991
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) lists "remains recovered" for Zabel
Joe Baugher "Airacobra I for RAF, P-400"
DPMO Service Personnel Not Recovered Following WWII Zabel, Joel D. (listed, although resolved)
Los Angeles Times "A Brother, Though Still Missing, Is No Longer Lost" by Mike Downey June 27, 1999
Los Angeles Times "World War II, Human remains, Missing persons" by Mike Downey June 27, 1999
The Noble Generation, Volume 2 page 88-89
Thanks to Bruce Hoy, Erick W. Kyro, Daniel Leahy, and Edward Rogers for additional information

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018


Tech Info

1 Missing
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