Mystery Surrounding the Disappearance of 3 Airmen in Malaya Solved After 70 Years

Credit: Thomas Ooi 

Mystery: On the 27th November 1945, a military transport plane vanished without a trace in the Malayan jungle’s depths. With three airmen aboard, the American military transport took off on a routine flight, traveling from Singapore to Penang.

This trip should not have presented any problems as the war was over, the weather was good, and the pilot was experienced. Still, something happened, and the plane with its passengers vanished for no discernible reason.

Malaya where the mystery began.  Jpatokal – CC BY-SA 1.0
Malaya where the mystery began.  Jpatokal – CC BY-SA 1.0

The flight plan showed that the flight would go from Singapore on the southernmost tip of the Malaysian peninsula, over the jungle to the island of Penang and the Straits Settlements situated there.

The plane, a C-47 transport, never arrived in Penang. The fate of the three airmen, Flight Officer Judson Baskett, First Lieutenant William Myers, and Private First-Class Donald Jones was unknown.

When the plane failed to arrive, a search was mounted, but nothing was found of the aircraft or its crew. Though evidence of their death was lacking, the authorities declared the three men dead.

PacificWrecks.com is a non-profit organization that investigates service people that are missing in action so their remains can be brought back to the USA for burial. As their name implies, they work in the Pacific region and try to find ship and plane wrecks to locate servicemen and women’s remains.

PacificWrecks came across a report that the wreck of a plane had been seen on a remote mountainside of the Malay Peninsula. The statement made in 1966 had never been formally investigated.

Again in 1985, a report of a plane wreck surfaced when two people stumbled across the wreckage. They made a note of the location, but again it was never formally probed.

Finally, in 2009, local residents photographed the wreckage. They forwarded the photographs to the authorities, who passed them on to the American embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Amid various domestic and international crises, nothing further was done around this report until 2015, when action was taken to resolve the issue. The Malaysian authorities located the remains of the three airmen. The remains were transported to Kuala Lumpur, where they were handed over to the American military.

A C-130E Hercules from the 43rd Airlift Wing
A C-130E Hercules from the 43rd Airlift Wing

The remains were placed in flag-covered coffins and loaded onto a C-130 transport plane for their final journey back to the USA. Secretary Ash Carter, the US Defence Minister, who was in the area on unrelated business, paid his respects as the coffins were loaded.

While it is assumed that these are the three airmen in question, the  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DAARPA) will undertake the required forensic identification to correctly identify each set of remains.

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Finally, after 70 long years, the mystery of the three missing airmen may be resolved, giving their families closure on what happened to their loved ones.