U.S. military planning to return to Botwood crash site
© File photo
Suited in their heavy-duty diving helmets and gear, this pair of Navy divers looked more like astronauts than underwater explorers when they were at Botwood Harbour last year on a recovery mission related to the crash of the Excalibur in 1942. They were lowered on a diving cage to the site of the wreck of the Excalibur, as the gear was bulky and heavy.
The final chapter has yet to be closed on the flying boat Excalibur, which crashed in Botwood Harbour Oct. 3, 1942.
According to Botwood Mayor Jerry Dean, a U.S. military team from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), part of a branch responsible for recovering missing American soldiers killed during wartime, are still planning to return, where they will continue to look for artifacts and possible remains.
The team’s last visit to Botwood was in August of 2011, where divers used sophisticated equipment to suction debris from the site. The material would then be brought to forensic anthropologists and archaeologists to sort and study.
“They were pretty sure they were coming back this year, but we haven’t had communication with them,” said Dean. “I have heard from family members, and they inquire from time to time. I don’t know if the upcoming presidential election has anything to do with it.”
But Dean said when the Americans left, the team indicated they were coming back again.
“Whatever the findings were, according to the commanding officer who told me, it was certainly enough to make a recommendation,” he explained. “He said ‘there’s no doubt in my mind my recommendation will be accepted.’”
The commanding officer also told Dean they wanted to return to Botwood, to resolve the situation, including what has been recovered, to the satisfaction of some, if not all, the families involved.
He heard the team was on another mission in Canada, though Dean did not know the details. The MIA Accounting Command website does list countries where missions are currently underway, and Canada is one of them.
“I’m confident that we will surely expect to see them next year, based on what they told me,” added the mayor.
He does know that some personal items were recovered. If they are not claimed by family members, policy dictates they have to be returned to the sea bottom, said the mayor, unless they are human remains.
“We had indicated to our provincial government that we have some interest there, and if there are any items worthwhile for display, we’d like to be given consideration to have them in our museum,” said Mayor Dean.
A propeller from Excalibur was retrieved several years ago by private divers and is now on display at Botwood’s Flying Boat Museum. However, the divers had not realized there were regulations in relation to retrieval of artifacts.
The huge Excalibur, a Sikorsky VS-44, was carrying American servicemen when it crashed and sank in the harbour, where it still remains approximately 30 metres down below the surface.
Of the 37 passengers and crew, 11 were killed, while others were seriously injured. The bodies of U.S. Army Air Force Capt. Warren Lessing, Office of Strategic Services, and Army Capt. Harold Freckleton and one Excalibur crew member, Quentin Moon, were never found.