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The Associated Press "Navy plane wreckage found 56 years later"
Saturday, August 12, 2000

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.

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