|Pilot 1st Lt Thelbert Vernon Lair, O-720525 (MIA / KIA, BR) Miami, FL
Co-Pilot 2nd Lt. Christian J. Ludwig, O-778520 (MIA / KIA) Sparros Point, MD
Engineer Cpl. William O. Waldrop, 34659483 (MIA / KIA) Greenville, SC
Radio Sgt. Edwin F. Wummer, 13008786 (MIA / KIA) Laureldale, PA
Passenger Pfc Johnnie M. Ward, 35433298 3rd Engineer Special Brigade (MIA / KIA) Craigsville, WV
Passenger SSgt Cecil F. Richardson, 33128509 3rd Eng Special Brgd (MIA / KIA) Roanoke VA
Passenger SSgt John P. Skodis, 33231947 (MIA / KIA) Maheaoy City, PA
MIA June 22, 1945
Built by Douglas. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as C-47B Dakota Serial Number 43-16230. Ferried overseas to Australia.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 374th Troop Carrier Group, 21st Troop Carrier Squadron. No known nose art or nickname. Nose W541. When lost, engine serial numbers (left) P-138226 (right) P-138292.
On June 21, 1945 this C-47 took off from Australia carrying passengers returning from leave and a cargo of fresh food and laneded at Merauke Airfield in the evening. At roughly 21:40, took off from Merauke Airfield Possibly, it departed in haste to assure their cargo would not spoil. That night, there were stratocumulus cloud cover to 12,000' with 6-8/10 cover and intermittent rains. At 22:40, one hour into the flight, the C-47 radio Merauke for a weather report for Biak. Afterwards, it was never heard from again. This C-47 was presumed to have crashed in the early hours of June 22, 1945. When it failed to arrive it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA) between Merauke to Biak.
The next morning,
when the C-47 failed to arrive, a flight of three C-47s from the Squadron searched for it on the flight route but failed to find it. The same three planes also searched on June 24 for 11 hours, but failed to find anything. The officer in charge of the search was Captain Elmer M. Holstein.
S/Sgt William Rea adds:
"Lt. Lair and I became very good friends, I also knew Ludwig and Waldrop and Wummer. That mission, they landed at Merauke, it was raining. Since they were carrying a load of fresh food that would spoil if they spent the night, Lair felt obligated to make it back to Biak. After it took off, they were never heard from again. I was on one of the search missions, but we failed to find them. We searched the general area, but we saw nothing, it is so big and covered with mountains. It would be a miracle how they found. I would be interested to learn more about this case."
On March 2, 1962 the wreckage of this C-47 was discovered by New Zealander explorer Philip Temple on a mountain peak at 12,000' in Irian Jaya. Afterwards, he reports the discovery to the US authorities.
Recovery of Remains
After the 1962 discovery, a U. S. Army team visited the crash site and recovered the remains of the crew to Hawaii for identification.
The entire crew were declared dead the day of the crash. All are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
After the remains were recovered, the entire crew was buried on August 22, 1963 in a group burial at Arlington National Cemetery at Section 34, site 4374. Skodis also has a grave at Saint Joseph Cemetery in Mahanoy City, PA.
Sandra Adams (niece of Christian Ludwig)
"I have detailed search and recovery information from the explorer who found wreckage and helped U.S. team recover remains, experiences he wrote about in his autobiography - glad to share this with survivors' descendants"
Missing Air Crew Report 14666 (MACR 14666)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - C-47 Dakota 43-16230
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Thelbert Vernon Lair "recovered"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Christian J. Ludwig "recovered"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - William O. Waldrop "recovered"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Edwin F. Wummer "recovered"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Johnnie M. Ward "recovered"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Cecil F. Richardson "recovered"
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John P. Skodis "recovered"
FindAGrave - 1Lt Thelbert V Lair (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 1LT Thelbert V Lair (Arlington group bural photo)
FindAGrave - Lieut Christian J Ludwig (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 2LT Christian J Ludwig (Arlington group bural photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt William O Waldrop (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sgt William O Waldrop (Arlington group bural photo)
FindAGrave - SGT Edwin Frank Wummer (Arlington group bural photo)
FindAGrave - PFC Johnnie M Ward (Arlington group bural photo)
FindAGrave - SSgt Cecil F Richardson (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - SSGT Cecil F Richardson (Arlington group bural photo)
FindAGrave - SSGT John P Skodis (Arlington group bural photo)
FindAGrave - SGT John P Skodis (grave photo)
The Last True Explorer by Philip Temple page 193-194
Thanks to William Rea and Sandra Adams for additional information
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February 14, 2020