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WW2 airman ID’d after divers find remains

The Liberator wreck (Timmy Gambin / University of Malta)
The Liberator wreck (University of Malta)

A WW2 airman missing in action for 80 years has been removed from the search-list of the USA’s Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), after divers succeeded in locating his remains on an aircraft wreck off the island of Malta.

In 2018 underwater archaeologist Prof Timmy Gambin led the University of Malta’s technical-diving team and a private company to locate the bomber at a depth of 58m near Benghajsa Point on Malta’s south coast. 

Supported by DPAA archaeologists, the divers have gone on to recover evidence in the form of life-support equipment and what were suspected to be human remains from the crash-site, through excavations carried out over two fieldwork seasons. 

Twenty-two-year-old US Army Air Forces Sgt Irving Newman from Los Angeles had gone missing on 6 May, 1943. Serving in Europe with the 9th Air Force, he was part of the nine-man crew of a Consolidated B-24D Liberator heavy bomber making its way to Sicily’s Reggio di Calabria harbour.

Divers on the wreck where WW2 airman's remains were found (University of Malta)
Divers on the bomber wreck (University of Malta)

Engine problems forced the pilots to separate from the main bomber group and fly directly into enemy anti-aircraft fire. The plane caught fire and crash-landed near Benghajsa Point with five of the crew injured, including Sgt Newman, but all his comrades survived and were subsequently rescued

Six years later, following military investigations into Sgt Newman and 81 other services personnel missing in the Mediterranean area, he had been designated “non-recoverable”.

Walls of the Missing

The DPAA, part of the US Department of Defence, is dedicated to recovering military personnel listed as prisoners of war or missing in action from past conflicts. Its scientists used “anthropological analysis” to identify Sgt Newman’s remains, while others from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System applied mitochondrial DNA and dental analysis techniques.

Sgt Newman’s name on the Walls of the Missing (DPAA)
Sgt Newman’s name on the Walls of the Missing (DPAA)

The airman’s name is recorded on the “Walls of the Missing” at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Impruneta, Italy and a rosette will now be placed beside it to indicate that he has been accounted for, before he is given a burial.

“Being trusted by the DPAA to execute this mission is a huge honour for the University of Malta and its Maritime Archaeology Research Programme,” said Prof Gambin. “Through our partnership with the DPAA we can make a small contribution to bring closure for families who lost their loved ones in past conflicts.”

Also on Divernet: Divers recover WW2 pilot’s remains, Dive / Bomber, 5 bomber wrecks located, as AI learns to find more, Three Truk aircraft wrecks located, Q&A: Gemma Smith on tech diving

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