Search for missing WWII bomber gets renewed push

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A search for a U.S. military aircraft that disappeared near a Pacific island during World War is getting renewed attention ahead of the 75th anniversary of its disappearance.

The B-17, nicknamed the San Antonio Rose, was flying on a mission over New Britain on Jan. 5, 1943, when it was attacked by enemy fighters. All 11 crew members aboard the bomber were lost, including Brig. Gen. Kenneth Walker, the highest-ranking recipient of the Medal of Honor still listed as missing from World War II.

Hi son, Douglas Walker, 84, of New Canaan, Connecticut, has been pushing for years to get the U.S. military to search for the crash site.

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed a resolution recognizing the lost crew and encouraging the continued effort to recover their remains. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, urged the Defense Department to recommit to a search and recovery mission.

The Pentagon agency that accounts for the nation's war dead killed on foreign soil said it plans to continue work on the case in 2018.

"This case is particularly difficult because of the terrain," said Chuck Prichard, a spokesman for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. "The original thought was the plane had landed in water. There may have been some evidence it landed inland. It's a mountainous area, very remote. Very few people actually live around there."

Some searches have been conducted in the eastern section of New Britain, a jungle-covered, mountainous island that's part of Papua New Guinea. The plane went down in the area during a mission to bomb a Japanese shipping convoy.

In April, the DPAA partnered with the Australian Unrecovered War Casualties Office on a ground exploration. It identified a wreckage area where the San Antonio Rose could have disappeared, but a follow-up mission was not able to locate the crash site.

"These search efforts remain insufficient so long as recovery of the San Antonio Rose remains an afterthought to other missions and priorities," Blumenthal wrote in a letter last week to the DPAA director with Sen. Steve Daines of Montana and Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.

Walker said he was grateful for the senator's attention to the case which, he said, "has meant that this plane's role in American history has been kept alive."

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