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US Airman's Remains Recovered from the Wreck of a WWII Bomber after 80 years

Published: September 26, 2023 - 13:58
Updated: September 26, 2023 - 14:05
US Airman’s Remains Recovered from the Wreck of a WWII Bomber after 80 years
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The World War II US Airman’s remains were excavated by archaeologists from the wreckage of a B-24 Liberator bomber on Malta.

In 1943, a US B-24 Liberator bomber crashed near the island of Malta while attempting an emergency landing. Unfortunately, as the aircraft approached the island, it lost power and plunged into the Mediterranean, claiming the life of its pilot, Newman. The nine other crew members on board miraculously survived and made efforts to rescue Newman with no avail. Newman was already injured prior to the crash as the plane had suffered a hit from anti-aircraft fire. This incident occurred on May 6th, 1943, as the plane was enroute from Libya to Reggio Calabria. Now the his remains will finally rest in the cemetery among his brothers-in-arms.

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Remains recovered on Malta
A group of technical divers led by Professor Timmy Gambin found the wreck with human remains in 2018, Photo: University of Malta

Sergeant Irving R. Newman, a 22-year-old, was stationed in Libya and piloted the B-24 Liberator. The bombing raid over the south of Italy led to the aircraft’s unfortunate encounter with enemy fire, resulting in the crash. Malta, under British rule at the time, served as a crucial U.S. ally, acting as a base for emergency landings and a vital connection between North Africa and Europe, thwarting the enemy’s advance into complete domination of the North African territories.

The excavation

The wreckage of the B-24 Liberator now rests approximately 1.6 kilometers off Marsaxlokk, the southernmost point of Malta, at a depth of 55 meters. It is accessible by boat and is at a depth reachable by technical divers. Its discovery was made through side-scan sonar in 2016, with the first dives conducted in 2018.

Irving Newman's name
Newman’s name is on the Tablets of the Missing at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Impruneta, Italy. Photo: DPAA

The recovery of Sgt. Newman’s remains took place just last June, a mission led by the University of Malta in collaboration with a designated dive team. The excavation of the remains was proved to be challenging due to the unstable conditions of the site. However, the mission was successful as the pilot was eventually located and recovered, along with a 50-millimetre machine gun.

The B-24 Liberator

The B-24 Liberator, a heavy bomber extensively used during World War II, had a wingspan of 33 meters and a length of 20 meters. The multi-engine aircraft wreck sits upright, with parts of the intact wings covered in corals. Two of the four engine propellers are still visible in place, while the nose and the cockpit of the plane are significantly damaged. The tail is also broken and located beneath the main body of the aircraft, the fuselage.

The American military aircraft was mass produced, with over 18,000 planes manufactured by the end of the war. It played a significant role in bombing campaigns during the Italian Campaign of 1942-1943. Unfortunately, one of these bombers sustained damage and could not execute a safe landing on Malta, ultimately crashing into Maltese waters. It sank head first, and allowed for the nine crew members to be rescued by the Royal Air Force

Visiting the wreck

Divers interested in exploring the B-24 Liberator wreck must obtain a permit from Heritage Malta registered dive centres. For those who prefer not to dive beyond recreational limits or choose not to dive at all, a 3D viewing option is available to observe the plane wreck.

In summary, the story of the B-24 bomber crash near Malta in 1943, highlights both valor and the tragedies of World War II. The aircrafts attempt to make an emergency landing on this crucial Allied base ended in disaster, with the loss of its pilot, Sgt. Irving R. Newman. However, the survival of the other nine crew members symbolizes the resilience and determination of those who served during the war. The wreckage offers a poignant historical glimpse into the past and serves as a memory of those who lost their lives fighting for their country.

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About author

Jasmine Mifsud
Jasmine Mifsud, who hails from Malta, has an incredible interest in the water surrounding the small island. Her passion for the sea is not surprising, since as a little girl, her biggest dream was to explore the oceans. This ambition created its own pathway as every decision she ever made led her to become an influential woman who decided to create a life for herself instead of living in someone else’s shoes. As time flew by, she became more adventurous and curious about our blue planet. She specialized in environmental sciences and took a tangent route into maritime archaeology, which she considers to be one of her best decisions to date. Throughout her journey, she has built friendships with some of the most inspiring divers globally, all of whom share unique experiences and stories worth listening to. As a young woman in the industry, her journey has only just begun.
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