WASHINGTON (CBS SF) — The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Tuesday that the remains of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Earl W. Smith, missing since his plane vanished in 1943, have been recovered at crash site in Papua New Guinea.
Officials said the remains of Earl W. Smith of Oakland have been identified by forensic experts using dental and anthropological analysis as well as material and circumstantial evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.READ MORE: COVID: Bay Area Vaccine Hunters Help Those Eligible Struggling To Find Appointments
In the summer of 1943, the then 22-year-old Smith was a pilot assigned to the 80th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Group, 5th Air Force.
On Aug. 20, 1943, Smith was piloting a P-38 Lightning fighter on a test flight near Port Moresby, Australian Territory of Papua (current day Papua New Guinea), when he crashed into the harbor off of Paga Point. Smith did not bail out and his body was not recovered.
Following the war, the American Graves Registration Command, the organization that searched for and recovered fallen American personnel, searched the area around Port Moresby several times, concluding their final search on Dec. 18, 1948. Investigators could not find any evidence that Smith’s remains had ever washed ashore. He was declared non-recoverable Aug. 17, 1949.READ MORE: Twitter Sues Texas AG Over Alleged Retaliation For Banning Trump's Account After Capitol Riot
In 2002, recreational divers discovered aircraft wreckage with a legible radio call sign data plate matching Smith’s P-38 off of Paga Point.
In 2014, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Agency (a predecessor organization to DPAA) evaluated the evidence and approved a recovery mission, but didn’t set a date.
DPAA sent a team to Papua New Guinea at the end of 2018. The team recovered possible human remains and material evidence that identified the wreckage as the aircraft piloted by Smith.
Smith’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Philippines, along with others still missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.MORE NEWS: COVID Reopening: San Francisco Unified Reveals More Details Of April Reopening
Smith will be buried Aug. 20, 2021, at a location yet to be determined.