MOSCOW -- The U.S. Navy bomber Ventura lifted off from Alaska's
Aleutian Islands into a snowstorm on March 25, 1944, heading for
a sortie over northern Japan, and disappeared for 56 years. Yesterday,
the American military announced it found the plane's wreckage on
the slope of a volcano on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. Authorities
now hope to identify the remains of the seven crew members and return
them to their families.
"It was on a very steep slope amid some scrub brush, and a lot of
wildflowers around," said U.S. Army Gen. Roland Lajoie, chairman
of the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on Soldiers Missing in Action.
Lajoie led an expedition this week to the site 4,200 miles east of
Moscow. The Ventura was loaded with ordnance and accompanied by four
other bombers on the so-called Empire Express bombing route, from
Alaska to the northern tip of Japan. Only one plane completed the
mission that night. One crashed shortly after takeoff and two turned
back after dropping their bombs into the sea, Lajoie said.
The Ventura, a twin-engine PV-1 patrol bomber, vanished. The Ventura
may have been hit by enemy fire after flying over the northern Kuril
Islands, which belonged to Japan at the time. Lajoie said one of
the Ventura's engines shows damage possibly caused by Japanese anti-aircraft
fire. But he said the cause of the crash will probably remain a mystery
because the accident was too long ago to justify an investigation.
The crew may have been looking for an emergency landing strip on
Soviet territory at Kamchatka's regional capital, he said. The Soviet
Union was not at war with Japan at the time, but U.S. bomber crews
used the strip for emergency landings rather than ditch at sea, knowing
they would be arrested and the planes impounded.
A Russian geologist found the wreckage in 1962 on the Mutnovsky
Volcano. A local historian, Alla Paperno, reported it to the U.S.
government last year.