Agartala, Sep 7 — A US team from the Joint Prisoners of War and Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) would excavate in Tripura to collect remains of soldiers and a US military aircraft that crashed during World War II, an official said Saturday.
“Six officials of the American government and JPAC have conducted a preliminary survey for two days (Thursday and Friday) at Dhumachara tribal village (in mountainous Longtharai Valley under Dhalai district) in northern Tripura,” a Tripura home department official told IANS.
An official who accompanied the team said two propellers of the crashed US military aircraft were found in the Kalapahar hills of in Dhumachara village, concealed beneath stones and soil.
Tribal villagers said remains of soldiers too were long protected, but had been washed away in rain some years ago.
An official said that the JPAC team had informed Tripura Chief Secretary Sanjay Kumar Panda that an international agency would start excavation in November to collect the propellers of the crashed aircraft and its fragments, as also the remains of the soldiers’ bodies, if any.
A senior Tripura police officer said that an American citizen, David Campbell, had survived the crash, but subsequently died.
Campbell’s younger brother, Tony Campbell, later learnt about the crash and his brother’s death from American army records and other sources and visited Tripura in the mid-1990s when insurgency was at its height in the northeastern state. He could not, at the time, visit the villages in north Tripura because of security concerns.
“After returning to America, Campbell took up the issue with the US government, which subsequently raised it with the Indian government,” a police official said.
Some fragments of the aircraft had been recovered in northern Tripura’s Longtharai Valley last January, 66 years after it crashed.
An officer of the paramilitary Assam Rifles had told reporters earlier that some remnants of the C-47B aircraft were recovered by troopers of the 34th Battalion.
“A series of search operations had been launched since September last year to find out the crash site in the thick and dense forests of all three hill ridges of northern Tripura – Baramura, Atharamura and Longtharai. Finally, our troopers achieved success in the first week of January,” the officer said.
During World War II, the Allied forces lost hundreds of aircraft and a large number of soldiers in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theatre of operations.
“The majority of allied crashes were caused by inhospitable weather, mechanical failure or navigational errors. The JPAC had identified 16 known crash sites in northeast India where allied forces aircraft crashed during World War II,” the officer said.
“On May 17, 1946, the ill-fated C-47B aircraft crashed in Tripura along with 11 crew members due to stormy conditions while transporting the remains of Allied POWs (prisoners of war) from Yangon (erstwhile capital of Burma, now Myanmar) to Calcutta,” the officer had said.
According to an official document of the Tripura government, during World War II, the Agartala airport was used by the United States Air Force’s Combat Cargo Group to take out sorties over Burma (now Myanmar).
“The Agartala airport was also used as a supply point from which the US Air Force units air-dropped packets of supplies and ammunition to the advancing Allied forces on the ground,” the government document said.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at [email protected])