Terps Help Investigate WWII Crash Site
By Liam Farrell
Photo by Björn S
World War II ended nearly 73 years ago, but for the families of missing U.S. troops, victory didn’t bring closure.
Some of those lost included the service members aboard a military aircraft that crashed in the Alps outside of Linz, Austria. Thanks to the efforts of UMD faculty and students, their descendants may soon have an enduring family mystery solved.
The six-week archaeological field school last summer was a collaboration with the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to survey the crash site and possibly identify the remains of a handful of the nearly 73,000 Americans still missing from WWII.
“I thought there would be no better way to spend my field school than on a really good cause,” says Sharon Ridge ’18, the granddaughter of a WWII veteran and fiancée of a Marine.
Led by forensic anthropologist and lecturer Marilyn London and Adam Fracchia Ph.D. ’14, the field school’s co-director and lead archaeologist, UMD and University of Vienna students and faculty headed to an isolated part of northern Austria. (DPAA is keeping confidential all specifics of the project, including its exact location, the date and circumstances of the crash, and information about the plane and its passengers.)
What followed was weeks of painstaking and difficult work, as students climbed a large slope daily to reach the forested site above the meadow of a working farm. All items, from pieces of aircraft to animal bones (which provide clues about how the environment has changed over time), were labeled, photographed and entered into a database, then sent to a DPAA laboratory for analysis.
Results won’t be available for at least 18 months, says London, who has worked on recoveries such as United Airlines Flight 93.
Nick Spielman ’17, an Army veteran, found it reassuring to see how seriously the military takes its credo of not leaving any service members behind.
“It’s very easy to say it,” he says. “It’s entirely different to go out and do it.”
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