A Missing Plane by Susan Sheehan

Book Description

An in-depth account of the discovery of a crashed American bomber missing for thirty-eight years and the painstaking identification of the plane’s passengers.

Part I – Bird hunters on Papua New Guinea found the wreckage of a large plane about 1980. Bruce Hoy, the first curator of the Aviation Maritime and War Branch of the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua New Guinea, was obsessed with finding remains of about 350 aircraft downed there between 1942 and 1945. When he learned about the wreckage, a team–including the two bird hunters–located and identified the B-24, mapping out an area to begin to identify the human remains and artifacts with X-numbers.

Hoy collected MACRs (Missing Air Crew Reports) and connected with the Central Identification Lab based in Hawaii, which had been formed to ID Vietnam war casualties until relations soured with Vietnam. Focus turned to WWII war dead.

Part II details the fascinating but tedious forensic work of identifying the 22 men in 1982 who’d been aboard the bomber, including the pilot, Robert Allred, who was from Des Moines, Iowa.

Part III is Allred’s story. He’d married and finished school at Des Moines College of Law then joined the Army Air Force in 1942. A member of the 22nd Bombardment Group in New Guinea in March 1944, Allred piloted a plane which was ferrying a new-in-country B-25 crew from Port Moresby to Nadzab when the plane was lost.

The Author

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Born in Vienna, Austria, Susan Sheehan won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1983 for her book Is There No Place on Earth for Me? The book details the experiences of a young New York City woman diagnosed with schizophrenia. Portions of the book were published in The New Yorker, for which she had written frequently since 1961 as a staff writer. Her work as a contributing writer has also appeared in The New York Times and Architectural Digest.

My Thoughts

I learned about this book from my son’s gradeschool teacher, Millie LeCroy. She and her twin sister had sung at the wedding of Bob and Juanita Allred in 1938. Four years after Bob Allred was lost in New Guinea, Juanita married a classmate of Millie and her sister. (Millie’s husband, Don LeCroy, flew fifty -three B-25 missions in New Guinea.)

The book was valuable research in trying to learn what had happened to my mother’s brother, Dale Wilson. He was MIA on a B-25 with five others in late 1943. Correspondence with Curator Bruce Hoy was especially helpful.

This book is so valuable historically, but also such a poignant human story.


    • Was it hard for you to read all the details? I’m thankful that she told about the care they go through to identify someone. My uncle who went down in the B-25 off Wewak, New Guinea, is still missing. I recently connected with the grandson of one of the gunners and sent him his grandmother’s letters which she’d written to my grandmother. They both lost sons, along with four other families.

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