MIA Hunters—81222 287th St. E., Randolph, MN 55065 USA Phone (507) 263-7050
Eleven American MIA’s, Missing for 60 years have been found by two Minnesotans following a million to one coincidence.
In 1943, a top secret WWII B24 bomber, specially radar equipped for low-level bombing of Japanese shipping at night, with a crew of eleven, disappeared over mountainous jungle in northern Papua New Guinea. Previous expeditions to find them had failed.
But a remarkable coincidence via the Internet sparked a new search which was to lead to the discovery of the long lost bomber. It began when Christopher Moon, of Shakopee, MN, intercepted a message on the Internet. Christopher and his father, Bryan, operate an MIA search and retrieval group called MIA Hunters with 32 MIA discoveries to their credit.
The message intercepted by Christopher Moon was from a Carolyn Fox, origination unknown, who was seeking to find a Joseph Thompson, a family relative WWII MIA. Joseph was a private in the Army Air Corps. He was attached to the AAF, 43rd Brigade, 63rd Squadron. His plane, B-24 serial number 42-40475, went down on December 3rd, 1943 over Papua New Guinea. 60 years since his disappearance, her message was being read by one of the few who could possibly solve the mystery. Christopher shared the intercept with his father.
Carolyn Fox could be anywhere on the worldwide Internet system which essentially meant anywhere in the world. Bryan’s follow-up message to Carolyn requested more details on the MIA and a response by e-mail adding that he lived in Cannon Falls, MN USA. The telephone rang the next day. It was Carolyn Fox responding. She said “You won’t believe this. I live in Cannon Falls, MN USA !” A million to one connection had been made and a new search for Joseph Thompson’s bomber had begun.
Carolyn passed on to the Moon’s all the evidence she had gathered from the US, Papua New Guinea (PNG), and Australian sources which focused on the Owen Stanley Range of mountainous jungle near Cape Ward Hunt on the north shore of the island. The inhospitable terrain is not unfamiliar to the Moons who lived in similar jungle 100 miles to the north three years ago. At that time, living in a native village, they discovered another lost WWII aircraft which led to the recovery of the pilot and a Red Cross staffer “passenger” from St. Louis Park, MN.
After each MIA discovery, the Moons pass on the location to the US Army’s Central Identification Laboratory (CILHI) in Hawaii who then retrieve the remains of MIA’s, conduct their forensic tests to authenticate and eventually return the remains to relatives. But in this case the Army’s search teams plus another independent searcher had been unsuccessful in finding the lost American bomber with the serial number 42-40475 and its eleven crew members. Last known to be returning from an armed reconnaissance mission over the islands north of PNG, its final radio message was “Why aren’t lights on?” presumably as it could not find its land mark. A two day search at the time also failed to find any trace of the aircraft.
The Moons studied all the evidence which pointed to a small costal town of Benoin in Cape Ward Hunt. One report identified a local native by the name of John Arete as having in his possession a crew-member’s dog-tag. If this was accurate, clearly this town and this man were the keys to finding the bomber. 30 miles to the south east is the town of Popondetta which provided airfield access to the area. From here a boat trip along the coast and a banana boat to Benoin would take the searchers to a cross-country starting point.
And here may be the biggest obstacle. Papuans are very protective of their territories and equally possessive of aircraft wrecks which could offer financial benefits. Consequently, they are seldom willing to share their knowledge with strangers unless they see reciprocal advantages. This was the case when villagers demanded $15,000 from the Moons before transferring to them the remains of the two MIA’s they were seeking three years ago. This sum was finally negotiated down to $2,000. Later, a US Army recovery team, guided by the Moons, reached the village when all the native men were absent and the women, fearful of the Army’s presence, handed over the remains without receiving any financial benefit.
The Moons therefore believed previous searches may have failed because they were unwilling to offer the natives some payment for their “services.” With this in mind, it was decided to make a different approach by sending in a group of more compatible fellow Papuans with the means to extend some financial benefit to willing guides.
Three years prior, the Moons had worked with an educated Papuan who became their on-site liaison, guide, and interpreter. Michael Roy worked for an accounting firm in Lae, 100 miles west of Cape Ward Hunt and the two Papuans from the area promptly joined Michael for the search. The Moons sent directions, maps, and funds with specific orders not to interfere with the crash site if found since this would complicate the US Army’s follow-up retrieval and forensic procedures.
Michael Roy and his two colleagues reached Deboin at 5:30 pm on Tuesday June 24th after a banana-boat trip. The small town of 600 people received them well and they inquired about the man John Arete who reportedly had a crew-man’s dog-tag. There was no such person but there was a John Atade who had left to become a missionary. His father, Johnson Karigo, was the village Chief who, with his son, had originally found the bomber on May 12th 2002 and was the only other person who knew the aircraft’s location.
The Chief agreed to guide Michael and his party to the crash site, a torturous six hour walk climbing mountains and thick jungle, wading through water and almost impassable thick bush which cut ad poison the skin. They reached the crash site only to find that on hitting the mountainside, the aircraft had broken into pieces which were scattered and partially buried. The fuselage was half full of soil. All four engines were at the site but one wing had settled near a village.
After taking photographs at the crash site, the Chief guided Michael back to Deboin offering to cut a path through the thick brush if the Moons came to Deboin. When asked about the dog-tag, the Chief had said that he had dug inside the fuselage of the bomber where he had found it bearing the name Robert E. Frank. Aircraft records list him as S/Sgt Gunner on the B-24 serial number 42-40475, the same B-24 as crewman Joseph Thompson, the first name given to the Moons by Carolyn Fox. The Chief no longer had the dog-tag but had recorded the details in a book. Curiously, these details also showed that on the back of Frank’s dog-tag was written the name “Mrs. Blanche Terry, Plain Field NJ.” Subsequent check revealed that Mrs. Blanche Terry was the airman’s mother who had remarried and was since deceased.
The evidence of the Robert Frank Dog-tag coming from the wreck makes it virtually certain that the lost B-24 Serial Number 42-40475, missing since December 3rd 1943 has at last been discovered. Positive identification of crew members will come from the forensic tests conducted by the Army and the families of the eleven WWII MIA’s will finally receive their loved ones back in the United States for burial. One of those crew members is believed to have come from northern Minnesota.
To retrieve the bodies of the lost airmen, the CILHI will require an area near the crash site cleared of trees and brush to be used as a helicopter landing site. Here they will land a 13-man team consisting of a team leader, team sergeant, two medics, two forensic anthropologists, an explosives ordnance disposal technician, a photographer, a communications technician, a mechanic, and several mortuary affairs specialists. They and their supplies will likely be delivered to the site for up to a grueling 45-day deployment.
After reviewing the evidence of the crash site retrieved by Michael Roy, the Moons decided more input was needed to better guide the CILHI Recovery Team. Early in August they therefore directed a second expedition to photograph the aircraft remains in greater detail and to locate a nearby site which could be cleared for a helicopter landing.
The second visit revealed that a helicopter site, ten minutes from the aircraft wreckage, had already been cleared. Apparently, a search team had previously landed there but had not found the crash site. Since the first visit by Michael Roy, sections of the aircraft wreckage had already been pirated by local natives, engine cylinders for instance, being taken and being doctored for use as cooking pots. This makes it all the more important for an early rescue of the eleven MIA’s human remains by the CILHI’s Recovery Team.
To guide the CILHI to the crash site, the detailed report, maps, and photographs have been sent to them and the moons stand ready to provide further support if called upon to do so.
The Minnesota MIA HUNTERS have raised their total of MIA’s discovered to 43. Their next mission takes them to the islands north of Okinawa in October.
MIA Hunter Bryan Moon: Telephone (507) 263-7050
MIA Hunter Christopher Moon: Telephone (952) 445-3474
Carolyn Fox: Telephone (507) 263-4960
Michael Roy: In Papua New Guinea, Telephone Sun-Thu after 4:00pm 011-675 472 1274