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Lecture on Finding the Missing set July 18

Searching for American airmen whose planes crashed close to land
July 15, 2019

For the next Ocean Currents lecture at the University of Delaware campus in Lewes, School of Marine Science and Policy Director Mark Moline will take attendees on a journey from the mangroves of Palau to the Mediterranean Sea where planes crashed in large bodies of water close to land.

“I have been working on a collaborative project called Project Recover, with the goal to locate and document aircraft associated with U.S. servicemen missing in action for the purposes of recovery and repatriation,” said Moline. “This is a combination of historical research, oceanography, archaeology, engineering and application of technology.”

Moline’s presentation, Finding the Missing, will be held at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 18, in Cannon Laboratory Room 104, Sharp Campus, 1044 College Drive, Lewes.

Moline said the process of recovering lost airmen, identifying their remains and coordinating with multiple governments can take two years or more.

The wrecks Moline and his team recover are often sunken below 200 or more feet of water, and there are many logistical hurdles when locating and travelling to a wreck. Special diving equipment, preprogrammed autonomous underwater vehicles and remotely operated vehicles tethered to the research vessel may be used. These tools allow Moline and his team to quickly extrapolate data from a wide search area and use cutting-edge technology to carry out complex research and recovery operations.

Moline said, “[Project Recover] has repatriated the remains of five servicemen, and we’ve identified 23 aircraft associated with MIAs.”

Project Recover works in many places around the globe, including the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Greece. Moline said he and his team will be going to Micronesia in August, and other cases will be explored in the upcoming year.

Project Recovery can usually do about six research voyages in a year; Moline said the organization continues to explore deeper in the ocean as technological capabilities increase.

“As technology marches on, we’re pushing the envelope of how deep we can go and increase the number of remains we recover,” said Moline. “In the next three to five years, we’re going to change the depth range that we’re working on. Right now we are above 200 feet, and in three years we’re going to be consistently be doing 300 feet.”

Project Recover’s efforts to return lost airmen require a small army of personnel, a small fortune in resources, and a great deal of quality science and engineering. However, Moline considers this a small price to pay for giving American pilots the respect and dignity they deserve.

“What’s really neat about this is that in our sort of abrasive political climate right now, this is something that cuts through all that. It doesn’t matter what you are, where you come from, or what you do. Everyone sort of rallies around that as a good cause, something people can get behind,” said Moline.