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Ruins of World War II bomber shot down over the Adriatic.
Author:, 06-08-2010

Found at the bottom of the sea: Ruins of World War II bomber shot down over the Adriatic... after lifelong search by cousin of dead airman

The discovery of a WWII bomber at the bottom of the sea marks the end of incredible 27-year journey to find out what happened to a long-lost airman.


Since 1983, Gerald Landry has dedicated his time to researching First Lieutenant Russell Landry's final moments - along with his B-24, the 'Tulsamerican'.

He became fascinated with his cousin's disappearance from the age of seven when he was told he had died while fighting overseas.

He said: ‘Those memories never left me, and I believe it was that long ago that I thought one day I would try and find out what really happened to him.'

However, after years of research, it was actually a chance discovery made in the Adriatic Sea that led to the B-24 being identified.

Darko Bojanic, a fan of wreck diving, stumbled across the remains and launched an investigation with the Croatian Conservation Institute and the Department of Underwater Archaeology in Zagreb.

The plane's data plate serial number - 42-51430 - matched one recorded for the Tulsamerican - and Mr Bojanic was led to Mr Landry.

Now, 66 year after the aircraft crashed, Mr Landry and his wife Carol, 63, from Azusa, California, will travel to the site at the Croatian Island of Vis, about 60 miles off the coast of Italy.

They will meet with the dive team who brought the search to an end and pay their respects to 1Lt and his crew in a ceremony.

He said: 'We will lower three wreaths to the aeroplane and an American flag, along with a sleeve from one of my WWII shirts that will have a 15th Army Air Force patch and a set of wings attached.


'Now that the airplane has been found and identified, I feel it is my responsibility to represent my family and the families of the other two airmen who will not be able to go at this time.' 

1Lt Landry died after his plane - assigned to the 461st Bombardment Group, 765th Squadron - was shot down during a battle with Luftwaffe fighters on December 17, 1944.

The navigator was aboard one of 800 bombers launched for a massive assault on oil refineries in Blechhammer and Odertal, Germany.

However, German radar detected large plane formations and Luftwaffe fighters were scrambled, shooting down 22 B-24 bombers within the first 10 minutes of battle.

1Lt Landry was one of three airmen, including pilot Lieutenant Eugene Ford and engineer Sargent Charles Priest, on the plane who were not rescued, and the location of the craft was lost in the drama.

Mr Landry, a retired aeronautical wind tunnel manager, said: 'I feel I must be one of the most fortunate people on earth to actually have the opportunity to pay my respects to my cousin who has been hidden from us for so long.'

Mr Landry managed to piece together his cousin's story from old pictures and heartfelt wartime letters sent home by 1Lt during his service for the Fifteenth USAAF (United States Army Air Force).

However, his search suffered a setback when he discovered some military records detailing his cousin's service history had been destroyed in a fire in the 1960s.

He said: 'I had to search elsewhere to find out anything about his service time. 'In the early 1990s I began making contact with people over the internet.'Through blogs and forums Mr Landry met others interested in the Tulsamerican as well as family members of other crew members. 


Eventually, his mission led him to Croatia and history-lover, Zeljko Bocek, arranged two dives off the Isle of Vis in 1944, but to no avail.

They were then contacted and informed about Mr Bojanic's find.

Mr Landry now hopes the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command, will undertake dives to recover artefacts from the wreck and confirm the deaths of the three airmen through DNA.

He said: ‘It's possible she might even be recovered so that she can be displayed in a museum but this will be down to the authorities.