Forensic scientists have located missing World War II pilot Gilbert Haldeen Myers after eight decades through DNA analysis. Myers, a 27-year-old US Army Air Forces (USAAF) 2nd Lieutenant, was a part of a crew of six on board a USA B-25 Mitchell bomber that left Tunisia in North Africa in the summer of July 1943, to attack the Sciacca Aerodrome in Sicily, Italy. Myers, who was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a co-pilot on the bomber, according to Cranfield University.
However, as the B-25 bomber approached its designated target, anti-aircraft fire struck it, as a result of which the aircraft lost altitude and crashed in a field about one and a half miles (2.4 kilometres) from the aerodrome.
Before the B-25 crashed, one crew member retreated out of the aircraft, according to witnesses at the time. No one survived the crash. Also, there was no record of any passenger being taken prisoner.
Since Myers’s remains were never recovered, he was declared missing in action.
How Myers was located after eight decades
About 80 years after the B-25 crash, forensic experts from Cranfield University and their colleagues from the US Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPPA) travelled to Sciacca to investigate American personnel who are still unaccounted for from World War II. About 72,000 American personnel are unaccounted for from World War II, and among these, around 39,000 are deemed to be recoverable. Previously, in 1947, search and recovery operations were made near Sciacca, but no signs of Myers were found.
The investigators from Cranfield University and DPAA announced in October 2023 that they had located human remains belonging to Myers. He has now been accounted for through DNA analysis in the US.
The Cranfield team, which involved 20 people, scoured the vicinity surrounding the impact zone, examining tonnes of soil to recover fragments of human remains to identify crew members.
In a statement released by Cranfield University, Dr David Errickson, a senior lecturer from the institute, said this deployment was the longest yet for the Cranfield Forensic Institute, and that during their operations, they systematically excavated the ground, examining every piece that could possibly be bone or other evidence. He also said that in challenging environments like the excavation site in Sicily, the team used wet screening, a process in which excavated material is passed through water to separate and analyse human remains and artefacts.
Dr Errickson said that the recovery of 2nd Lt Myers’ remains not only facilitates a proper full military honours burial, but also allows the family to receive any personal effects found, and brings closure for the families of those missing or killed in action.
The team also recovered plane wreckage parts, and sent the human remains to the DPAA laboratory. On August 10, 2023, the remains were identified as belonging to Myers with the help of DNA analysis.