Pike County Times
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Photo courtesy of MIA Recoveries, Inc.
Bring Them All Home: The Continuing Story of
the "Hot as Hell" Crash in India
By Editor Becky Watts

ZEBULON - Pike County Times became began covering the story of a B-24J Liberator that crashed in World War II back in 2007. This B-24J Liberator was named "Hot as Hell" and carried a crew of eight with supplies to the Chinese as they were fighting an invasion from Japan. This crew was flying over The Hump from China to Chabua, India on January 25, 1944 when their plane crashed and the entire crew was killed.

Searches were undertaken but since the plane had flown off course during bad weather, their deaths remained a mystery until Arizona adventurer Clayton Kuhles found the crash site in 2006. This was one of the first World War II plane crash sites identified in Arunachal Pradesh and one of many in this area of the world that has been found and identified by Clayton Kuhles.

Clayton Kuhles has dedicated his time to locating and recovering US WWII airmen lost in the China-Burma-India theater through his non-profit organization, MIA Recoveries. So many planes were lost in this area that the route is known as “The Aluminum Trail.” You can read more about MIA Recoveries and the “Hot as Hell” crash at miarecoveries.org/media-B24J_73308.html.

Family members of 1st Lt. Robert Eugene Oxford found out about the crash site in 2007, and this began a decade long journey home for 1st Lt. Robert Eugene Oxford from Concord, Georgia in June of 2017. However, his remains were the only remains that were brought home by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) after a survey and three excavation attempts with the last attempt ending in November of 2015.

The “Hot as Hell” story isn’t over yet because seven crew members remain on the side of a mountain in India as family members and friends who knew them continue to pass away here in the states waiting for their airmen to finally come home to rest in the United States. This article is an update on the “Hot as Hell” story and a plea for the public to get involved and help bring home the remaining seven crew members through MIA Recoveries.

MIA Recoveries Is Dedicated to The Aluminum Trail

MIA Recoveries, Inc. is dedicated to finding and recovering Missing in Action (MIA) Americans who lost their lives along the Aluminum Trail in the China-Burma-India theater of operations. Some of the reasons for these crashes were hostile fire from Japanese forces, bad weather, and mechanical and navigational error. Clayton Kuhles works with local guides to find and document these crash sites in order to bring home MIA Americans in this area of the world. These crash sites are documented, uploaded to his website, and all appropriate government agencies are notified.

When Clayton finds human remains at these crash sites, he delivers the remains to the US Department of Defense for DNA testing and matching to family members. When the remains are identified, the service members are then returned to their families for burial here in the states in a process called repatriation. So far, Clayton Kuhles of MIA Recoveries, Inc. has documented 18 aircraft sites in northeastern India, 2 in Bhutan, 1 in Burma and 1 in China. He has also recovered four Missing in Action crew members from WWII.

The remains of Capt. Jennings H. Mease, 2nd Lt. Samuel E. Lunday, Jr., and Pfc. Mervyn E. Sims have been recovered from C-87 #41-23696 that crashed on April 24, 1943 on a return flight from China to India. Three out of the five crew members have been returned home to their loved ones. You can see photos from this recovery at miarecoveries.org/gal_8-C-87-41-23696.html

The remains of 2nd Lt. Frederick W. Langhorst has been recovered from C-109 #44-49628 that crashed on July 17, 1945 on a trip from India to China. One of the four crew members has been repatriated and returned to his loved ones. You can see photos of this recovery at http://miarecoveries.org/gal_2-c109-44-49628.html

Bringing Home the Remaining Members of the “Hot as Hell” Crew

Even before Pike County Times was given an official answer that the DPAA had no plans to go back to finish the “Hot as Hell” repatriation, there were hints that this would be the case from the official documentation of the site. The DPAA gave the family an After Action Report describing the search and return of 1st Lt. Robert Eugene Oxford. In it, reasons such as the area being “highly unstable” with boulders rolling through the site and the mountaineer finally having to declare the mission too dangerous were listed as reasons for ending the mission and possibly not returning.

Clayton told me in May that DPAA's After Action Report pointed out environmental challenges found at the Hot as Hell site such as steep or unstable terrain. “The terrain conditions at Hot as Hell are strictly average for aircraft wreckage sites in Arunachal Pradesh,” he said. “Many of the other aircraft sites are significantly steeper, more rugged and technically more challenging. The logistics of reaching Hot as Hell and supplying an archaeological recovery mission is also strictly average compared to other aircraft wreckage sites in Arunachal Pradesh. Many of the other sites are much more difficult to reach and have no nearby water source or suitable campsite location.”

When asked about whether he would go back to “Hot as Hell” and help bring home more of the remaining family members, Clayton told me in May that he would start fundraising to go back if the DPAA chose not to go back. “I'll attempt to self-fund the excavation of Hot as Hell if DPAA has decided to "close" the site. Recovered remains will be subjected to a joint forensic review with the government of India, then transferred to DPAA for DNA identification and repatriation to the families,” he said. “If DPAA has in-fact excavated approx. 50% of the Hot as Hell site, then I estimate my team and I can complete the excavation for $80,000 to $90,000.” Since that time, the DPAA has given me something in writing to advise that the “Hot as Hell” site is closed and that there are no plans to return.

MAJ Jessie Romero, the Public Affairs Officer assigned to the DPAA, was asked whether the DPAA planned on returning to the "Hot as Hell" crash site to complete the job and return the remaining seven crew members to their families and, if so, when would this occur? His answer in recorded here in its entirety: “There are no plans to return to return to "Hot as Hell" crash site due to safety concerns. Over the last 10 years DPAA has conducted a thorough review of the circumstances of this loss and the condition of the crash site. After an intensive and detailed survey in 2008 and three excavation attempts (two in 2009, last mission ending November 2015), we have determined that the crash site is located in an extremely hazardous environment. The last excavation, which led to one identification is located on a steep slope in an area known for landslides, and has buried and scattered much of the wreckage over a large area with shifting boulders. With large boulders in place using other boulders as support, these objects fall uncontrollably without notice. The last recovery team attempted to mitigate the risks; however, they were not able to control boulders from falling into the recovery site. Accordingly, we have determined the hazards at the site present an unacceptable risk to the safety of DPAA personnel.”

Clayton’s response? He said that he is ready to go back to India to the Hot as Hell site as soon as funds can be raised for the mission. “It's now assured that only a privately-funded recovery mission to Hot as Hell will complete the excavation of the site and hopefully find the other crewmembers. The Hot as Hell site is about average in terms of terrain challenges when compared to the other sites I've found in northeastern India, so it's most unfortunate that DPAA is citing safety concerns as their reason not to hire a contractor to complete the recovery work there.”

Clayton has a team of four archaeologists, three of whom have a PhD, and all of them have many years of field experience and “easily meet the professional requirements” of DPAA. “If funding can be arranged,” he said, “I'll immediately apply to the Indian government for the needed permits and start mobilizing my archaeologist team. I would like to return to Hot as Hell this fall and complete the excavation work."

He pointed out that History Flight and Bent Prop have both used private funding raised through donations and grants to perform recovery work in the Southwest Pacific and with the help of the public, MIA Recoveries could do the same thing in northeastern India.

Time is of the essence when it comes to recovery work in this part of India, however. The rainy monsoon season in northeastern India typically begins in late May or early June and continues through early October. “From my past experiences in northeastern India, I've found that the river crossings are the most dangerous aspect of operating there, and the rivers are oftentimes too high and too fast-moving to safely cross during their monsoon season,” he said. “Remember, many river crossings involve wading through the water as there is no bridge. For safety considerations, field operations should be scheduled for fall and early winter. Operating in cold weather and limited snow is generally not a problem.”


According to Clayton’ website, MIARecoveries.org, the MIA recovery expeditions and the website have been almost entirely self-funded by Clayton Kuhles with NO funding coming from the US government. However, that changed with the repatriation and burial of 1st Lt. Robert Eugene Oxford in June. After Lt. Oxford’s story went out to the public, donations have come in from the Chinese community to help bring home the remaining seven crew members of “Hot as Hell.”

A little over $24,000 has come in since the funeral in honor of 1st Lt. Oxford. “The Chinese community across the US as well as in Canada and in China have been very generous,” Clayton said.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to help bring home the other members of the "Hot as Hell" crew whose remains are still on a mountainside in northeastern India, donations can be made to MIA Recoveries at http://miarecoveries.org/funding.html. If you would like to send a donation via personal or business check, please mail it to: MIA Recoveries, Inc.
P.O. Box 12871
Prescott, AZ 86304-2871

All donations received are deposited with MIA Recoveries, Inc. MIA Recoveries, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity registered with the IRS. Donations are tax-deductible.

To read more about this amazing story of new friendships and a celebration of a hero from two cultures, click on the following links:
BREAKING NEWS: Bringing 1st Lt. Robert Eugene Oxford Home: A Celebration of A Hero from Two Cultures
Chinese Community Pays Its Respects to a Long-Lost Hero, By Guest Columnist Al Zhang, Courtesy of Atlantachineselife.com
BREAKING NEWS: Bringing 1st Lt. Robert "Eugene" Oxford Home - Part I
BREAKING NEWS: Bringing 1st Lt. Robert "Eugene" Oxford Home - Part II
Atlanta Chinese Welcome Pike County Visitors to Johns Creek

We remember and honor the entire crew of “Hot As Hell” and mourn their loss for their families:

Pilot 1st Lt. William A. Swanson, O-728935 (MIA / KIA) Proctor, VT
Co-Pilot F/O Sheldon L. Chambers, T-000291 (MIA / KIA) Altoona, PA
Navigator 1st Lt. Irwin G. "Zipper" Zaetz, O-791661 (MIA / KIA) Burlington, VT
Bombardier 1st Lt. Robert E. Oxford, O-663308 (MIA / KIA, BR) Concord, GA
Engineer SSgt Charles D. Ginn, 15084114 (MIA / KIA) Crete, IL
Radio SSgt Harry B. Queen, 11021096 (MIA / KIA) Onset, MA
Gunner Sgt James A. Hinson, 14188472 (MIA / KIA) Greensboro, NC
and Gunner Sgt Alfred H. Gerrans, Jr., 34315848 (MIA / KIA) Kinston, NC.