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US Army CILHI 1999
|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
Crashed June 22, 1945
Built by Douglas. Constructors Number 20696. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as C-47B Skytrain serial number 43-16230. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to Australia.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 374th Troop Carrier Group (374th TCG), 21st Troop Carrier Squadron (21st TCS). No known nose art or nickname. Nose W541. When lost, engine R-1830 serial numbers (left) P-138226 (right) P-138292. No armament was aboard.
On June 21, 1945 took off from Australia piloted by 1st Lt Thelbert V. Lair transporting passengers returning from leave and a cargo of fresh food and landed at Merauke Airfield in the evening.
At roughly 9:40pm took off from Merauke Airfield to continue the flight onward to Biak. Possibly, this C-47 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 10:40pm an hour into the flight, the C-47 radio Merauke asking for the weather at Biak. Afterwards, it was never heard from again and presumed lost somewhere between Merauke and Biak and on June 22, 1945 in the early morning hours. When this aircraft failed to arrive it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
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.
William Rea adds:
"During the war, Lt. Lair and I became very good friends, I also knew Ludwig, 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."
In fact, this C-47 crashed on a mountain peak at 12,000' in western New Guinea. On March 2, 1962 the crash site was located by New Zealander explorer Philip Temple in Irian Jaya. Afterwards, reported the aircraft to the U. S. authorities.
Recovery of Remains
After the 1962 discovery, a U. S. Army team visited the crash site and recovered remains that were transported to the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI) for identification.
The entire crew were declared dead the day of the crash. None of the crew or passengers earned the Purple Heart, posthumously as the flight was deemed to be over a non-combat flight. All are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
After the remains were recovered, on August 22, 1963 the entire crew was buried in a group burial at Arlington National Cemetery at section 34, site 4374. Skodis also has a memorial marker at Saint Joseph Cemetery in Mahanoy City, PA.
Sandra Adams (niece of 2nd Lt. Christian J. 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."
John Waldrop (nephew of Cpl William O. Waldrop)
I am a nephew of William O. Waldrop (Uncle Bill). I have several photos of him and letters, newspaper articles etc pertaining to the disappearance of the plane and the recovery in 1962 of the remains. I do not know what caused the crash, however I do not believe there was a mid-air collision as there were no reports of another C-47 missing in Irian Jaya on 22 June, 1945. The wreckage of the plane and the remains were discovered in 1962 by a party led by Philip Temple, an explorer from New Zealand. The remains (7) were recovered and they are buried together in Arlington National Cemetery. My Uncle's billfold was also recovered and is in remarkable condition considering the many years that had passed.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - C-47B-1-DL Skytrain 43-16230
"16230 (MSN 20696, 374th TCG) lost Jun 22, 1945, New Guinea. MACR 14666"
Missing Air Crew Report 14666 (MACR 14666) created June 25, 1945
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, Sandra Adams and John Waldrop for additional information
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