80 years after D-Day, a dedicated team works to bring missing airmen home

  On the morning of D-Day, there were 821 C-47s carrying more than 13,000 soldiers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. Eighteen of them were shot down. Due to poor weather, communication interference and unexpected enemy fire, many of the troop drops were scattered. "Some landed in their drop zones and others landed miles away. If a plane got hit, the best option was for the paratroopers to jump wherever they could,” Dr. Klinek said.

Faced with German anti-aircraft fire from an altitude of less than 1,200 feet, Donohue, Madson and Brooks, along with their fellow airmen: the crew chief, Major McKinley McCanless; and the pilot, 1st Lieutenant Samuel Williams Jr., did not have enough time to bail out or maneuver a successful crash landing after dropping their paratroopers.

French eyewitnesses say their C-47 "struck the ground and burst into flames,” killing all five men, according to agency records.

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, 821 Douglas C-47 aircrafts dropped over 13,000 American paratroopers into northern France. Paratroopers were dropped from an altitude of 900 to 1,100 feet. Overcast weather and anti-aircraft artillery fire caused many of these planes to miss their drop zones, and 18 planes were shot down or crashed that day — seven of which were carrying people who are still missing.

In 2016, the agency received a tip the crash site had been rediscovered on farmland in Normandy. They sent a team in 2019 to evaluate the site and what they found was "part of an air speed indicator and part of a C-47 load adjuster,” Dr. Klinek said, who was part of the initial evaluation on the ground. "We knew based on all the evidence from the French researchers to all the documents we had that this was the plane,” he said.

The families of Donohue, Madson and Brooks have been notified by the agency they are currently looking for their loved ones’ remains, and the process may take time.

This investigation is ongoing.


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