Featured History News

American Pilot Accounted For From World War II

The US Defense Agency responsible for recovering United States military personnel who are listed as prisoners of war, or missing in action from designated past conflicts (DPAA) has announced that an American Pilot Lt.Earl.Smith, killed during World War II in Papua New Guinea has been accounted for.

Smith was piloting a P-38 Lightning fighter on a test flight near Port Moresby when he crashed into the harbour off Paga Point on August 20, 1943. He did not bail out and his body was not recovered.

In the summer of 1943, Smith was a pilot assigned to the 80th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group, 5th Air Force.

The Plane is said to have taken off from 3 Mile Drome now Kila Barracks, in Aug.20 1943, it was piloted by 2nd Lt. Earl W. Smith on a mission against the Japanese Force in Wewak… After a successful mission, Smith decided to perform aerobatics over a ship inside Fairfax Harbor. He slow rolled and hooked a wing in the water and crashed 300 yards off Paga Point.

3 Mile Drome (Kila Kila)

Following the war, the American Graves Registration Command, the organization that searched for and recovered fallen American personnel, searched the area around Port Moresby several times, concluding their final search on Dec. 18, 1948. Investigators could not find any evidence that Smith’s remains had ever washed ashore. He was declared non-recoverable on Aug. 17, 1949.

53 years later, recreational divers discovered aircraft wreckage with a legible radio call sign data plate matching Smith’s P-38 off of Paga Point in 2002.

P-38 Radio Call Sign Data Plate.
PC: Mr. Mark Palmer via PacificWrecks.com

In 2014, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Agency (a predecessor organization to DPAA) evaluated the evidence and approved a recovery mission, but didn’t set a date. DPAA sent a team to Papua New Guinea at the end of 2018. The team recovered possible human remains and material evidence that identified the wreckage as the aircraft piloted by Smith.

P-38 Cockpit
PC: Mr. Mark Palmer via PacificWrecks.com

To identify Smith’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis, as well as material and circumstantial evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.

Smith’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines, along with others still missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

Smith will be buried on Aug. 20, 2021, at a location yet to be determined.

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