The remains of a Second World War pilot missing since he embarked from north Africa on a mission in a bomber jet on July 1943 have been discovered in a painstaking forensic investigation eight decades later.
The B-25 Mitchell bomber departed Tunisia to attack the Sciacca Aerodrome in Sicily with six crew members on board – but was struck by anti-aircraft fire, and crashed in a field less than 3 kilometres from its target.
Witnesses at the time said one crew member had bailed out of the bomber before it crashed, and the remains of co-pilot Gilbert Haldeen Myers – a 27-year-old 2nd Lieutenant from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – were never recovered.
There were no survivors, or any record of passengers being taken prisoner, and Myers was subsequently declared missing in action.
Despite a search taking place near Sciacca after the war’s conclusion in 1947, in the intervening decades Myers had remained one of 72,000 American soldiers whose fate was was unknown and who may not receive a proper full military honours burial.
That remained the case until last year, when the US government’s MIA Accounting Agency and 20 researchers from Bedfordshire’s Cranfield University travelled to Sicily to investigate – each of them assigned to scour the vicinity near the impact zone and screen tonnes of soil for fragments of human remains or personal effects which could identify the crew members.
“This deployment was our longest yet,” said Dr David Errickson, of the Cranfield Forensic Institute.
“During our operations, we systematically excavated the ground, meticulously examining every piece that could possibly be bone or other evidence. In challenging environments like the excavation site in Sicily, our team utilised wet screening, a process where excavated material is passed through water to separate and analyse human remains and artifacts.”
Last month, investigators announced they had located human remains belonging to Myers, and through DNA analysis in the US, he has now been accounted for.
“The recovery of 2nd Lt Myers’ remains not only facilitates a proper full military honours burial but also allows the family to receive any personal effects found. Most importantly, it brings closure for the families of those missing or killed in action,” said Dr Errickson.
Myers was buried in Florida ahead of Remembrance Day, on 10 November.