peak of Mount Kenevi is 11,300 feet above sea level and is largely covered
with primary rain forest, except for tussock grassland near and on the
tops. What makes these facts relevant to this story is Mt. Kenevi’s
existence alongside the Kokoda Gap; in Papua New Guinea.
the war years the Kokoda Gap was used as an aerial route between Port Moresby to the south, and Buna, Lae and Rabaul to the North. Both Allied
and Japanese planes were lost over the Kokoda Gap; and when off course,
often ran into the granite clouds of Mt. Kenevi, especially in bad weather.
Over the past 60 years; some of those planes, initially posted missing
have been located by local hunters; and in a few cases the discovery,
has been reported to the official authorities. Where human remains
are present, the relevant Government Agency (United States, Australia
or Japan) comes onto the site to carry out their appropriate ceremonies.
Mt. Kenevi Today
The air at
higher altitude is very clear and even seems to taste different.
The light has a different texture, and the whole experience of mountain
hiking has an almost mystical quantity. Mt. Kenevi is no different
to other mountains in this regard. On the slopes around Mt. Kenevi perhaps
6-8 planes have been reported in the past including one occasion in
1964, when a joint Australian-American patrol climbed the southwest
face of Mt. Kenevi and located 3 planes. One of these, an Anson,
was subsequently revisited and human remains recovered by the Australian
Wilkinson Egimbari, a Papua New Guinean, decided to go onto Mt. Kenevi
to see if he could locate these or other planes from World War II. Wilkie
earns money working as a “Wrec Tec” seeking out wrecked WW II
aeroplanes, throughout the country. Wilkie is from the lower, warmer
regions of PNG; more used to coconuts and the endless heat of the
coastal plains than the cool and often bleak climate of the mountain
regime, so he was in for a bit of a shock.
of by himself from Port Moresby, and took a public bus (PMV) to
the end of the road, and started trudging up the Kokoda Trail,
the scene of a running battle between Japanese and Australian troops
in late 1942. The Kokoda trail winds up and down, crossing several
mountain ridges and deep ravines, before finally crossing the Owen
Stanley Ranges and emerging onto the lowlands to the north at Kokoda.
It took him
two days to reach Naduri, a small village, in the middle of the Kokoda
Trail near Lake Myola (a grassed depressed plain) at 8,000'. The
Naduri landowners claim ownership of a portion of the Mt. Kenevi lands. There,
Wilkie met up with several of the landowners, who were willing
to take him up Mt. Kenevi, to look at the plane wrecks that they
knew about. The
expanded team (now eight men and one woman - a cook) was composed of
mostly of young men eager to explore the mountain, and to do something
a bit different from their normal village life. Those people are more
used to the mountain life than Wilkie. Wilkie had boots and a light
jacket, but the rest of the team had only their shirts, shorts and bare
feet. They coped well. Wilkie suffered.
One of the landowners had been with
the 1964 expedition and retained some memories of the approximate
locations of the wrecks found on that trip. Normally,
Mt. Kenevi (and similar peaks in the Owen Stanley Ranges)
are not regularly visited except by occasional by hunters
or travelers, exploring a different route for novelty
Myola requires some warm covering at night, due to the
cold conditions, but Wilkie and the others had no blankets. As
a result, bedding is made of fern and leaves to sleep in. This
along with a healthy fire and a light tarpaulin serves
to keep some of the bad weather at bay.
ascent took them across Lake Myola, when Wilkie
photographed the wreckage of a P-39 from the 8th Fighter Group.
After two more days of travel, the patrol reached 10,500' to a point near where one plane was known vaguely
to be. No one however had seen this plane, and it took
2 days of searching in different directions from a base camp
before the plane was finally located. It was a P-40,
an early model, with “U.S. ARMY” painted on the
wing. This altitude was much colder, but there was no extra
clothing available, so it become much harder to keep warm. Mountain
leeches also become a problem as well, especially for Wilkie.
The next plane was located after a further two days search,
at a higher altitude but on this occasion this wreck had been
earlier reported. It was a badly broken B-25D
41-30532 in damp moss forest at 10,500’ Human remains
were located here.
At the end of this wreck hunting expedition; the bulk
of the party returned to Naduri village, taking a further
2 days of travel. However, a small party remained on
Mt. Kenevi to go cassowary hunting around the upper slopes
of Mt. Kenevi. A cassowary is a large flightless bird similar
to an Emu or Ostrich. They are aggressive birds and
can be a major challenge to hunters. Two further wrecks were
located by these hunters; one which had been found earlier,
the second discovered for the first time, on the NE slopes
of the mountain. This party traveled light, gathering
water where ever possible. Food for hunters and solo
travelers is normally a large cold, cooked kaukau (sweet
potato) per day with the usual bed of leaves and fern and
a fire for warmth at night.
this time there is still the Anson wreck to relocate, plus probably
other unknown aircraft. Wilkie came back to Port Moresby complaining
about the extreme cold, lack of water at the higher altitudes and the
leaches which, he found were very persistent. He was pleased with
his efforts, and in due course, the airmen of at least one aircraft
will find their way home, and finish their journey, begun in the early
1940s. The survey work is not however, yet finished; and Wilkie has
gone back again to photograph these newly located planes, and possibly
others as well; if they can be found. For this second patrol, his equipment
has been increased to include a sleeping bag and a light tent; the
high cut boots will have to wait for another occasion.
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