US aircrew's remains found in sunken WWII aircraft

The remains and personal belongings of five American airmen have been recovered from the wreck of a US Air Force plane, almost 70 years after it sank in Canadian waters, a diplomat said Tuesday.

The amphibious plane was accidentally discovered by underwater archeologists in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in 2009 and a 50-person US military team was sent earlier this month to search for the remains of the crash victims.

They found the aircraft resting upside down in pitch black, frigid waters, about 40 meters (131 feet) down, two kilometers (1.2 miles) off the coast of Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, Quebec, said US Consul General Peter O'Donohue.

"In these extremely difficult circumstances, you could see the stress on the faces of the divers who were returning from the wreck," he told AFP, noting that the aircraft remained in fairly good condition.

"The team has been able to recover quite a few artifacts, including instruments, personal items, even part of a log book that is still legible after 70 years under water... as well as human skeletal remains."

The Catalina seaplane had foundered in rough weather during takeoff on November 2, 1942, in the waters surrounding what is now the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve in the eastern part of the gulf.

The plane was based at Presque Isle, Maine, in the United States, and it serviced an airfield in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northeast of Montreal.

Nine people were on board when the aircraft went down but four crew members escaped the flooding plane and were rescued by local fishermen rowing out from shore in open boats in rough seas.

The five others perished, trapped inside.

The recovery "was quite emotional for everyone on the ship and people in the local village who felt a connection with the American airmen who have been just offshore from their village for the past 70 years," O'Donohue said.

Around 84,000 US servicemen who served in conflicts since the Second World War are still missing.

O'Donohue said he witnessed on the Canadian waterway "a sacred mission to recover US soldiers lost in war."

In the United States, "there's a deeply held sense that servicemen whenever possible should be returned to their families and given a respectful burial... in our own soil," he explained.

In 1941 and 1942, the United States constructed a series of airfields in eastern Canada to ferry aircraft to Allied air forces in northern Europe, as part of the so-called "Crimson Route."

The construction of the airfield in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan was meant to serve as an emergency landing strip along the ferry route between Presque Isle and Goose Bay, Labrador.

Other items recovered from the wreck include a watch, a pair of glasses, navigational instruments, and pieces of uniforms.

The bones and artifacts will be sent to a US military base in Virginia for forensic identification, including dental records and DNA.

The Catalina sea plane will remain where it lies.

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