There is a region in Arunachal Pradesh Americans call ‘The Hump’. It is very close to India’s border with China. During the Second World War, US warplanes had to cross this perilous air route to deliver supplies to Chinese troops fighting the Japanese forces.
The route, passing over 4,500 metre ridges, was so dangerous that pilots gave it another nickname: The Aluminium Trail. Why? Because of the very high number of plane crashes due to icing, loss of fuel, storms and collisions with mountains.
The US Department of Defense says than more than 500 US aircraft and 1,200 crewmembers are still officially missing in the China-Burma-India theatre from the Second World War.
Of them an estimated 416 aircrew died in the line of duty in the Indian side alone; most of them losing their lives trying to cross The Hump.
In December 2006, the wreckage of a US B-24 bomber nicknamed ‘Hot as Hell’ was located at Damroh village in Arunachal Pradesh. The bomber had disappeared with eight crew on board on Jan 25, 1944 on their way from Kunming, China to Chabua, Assam.
That sparked a renewed American interest in resuming search missions to locate their fallen soldiers. But the UPA government had shot down the request in 2009 citing “concerns” raised by China. They also gave “strategic, internal political, ecological and anthropological” reasons.
Now the Economic Times reports that the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre has given the green signal to the US military to scan the area following a new request.
The report says that specialised identification and recovery teams from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) will arrive in India shortly to search for Americans that remain unaccounted for from Second World War.
A June 28 report published in The Week informs us that it was during Barack Obama’s visit to India in January this year that the matter rose to an official level from that of an NGO’s lone push.
In the 5,754-word joint statement was a sentence that said India would facilitate humanitarian mission to recover America’s Missing in Action (MIAs) who crashed in the Arunachal Himalayas during World War II.
“While this moratorium has been in effect, at least two relatives of the Arunachal missing have died, including a nephew of ‘Hot as Hell’ co-pilot Sheldon Chambers and a brother of bombardier Robert Eugene Oxford,” Gary Zaetz, who leads the lobby that has been pushing for exploration of the area, told ET. His own uncle was a member of the B-24 crew.
What about China?
Given Beijing’s stand on Arunachal Pradesh and its current relations with the US, China should be expected to oppose the decision though no official word has yet come from any Chinese Communist mouthpiece.