60 Years Later, Missing Pilots Identified

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Most stories about the remains of U.S. military pilots being found decades after they went missing involve far-away places, but for 60 years Delbert C. Goodspeed and Robert Henry Paulsen have lain beneath a field near the Pajaro River in Monterey County, Calif. Now, the local water authority is trying to find the living relatives of the young pilot trainees after a work crew unearthed bone fragments, personal items and aircraft parts while digging a waterline trench in July. The discovery of riveted metal and landing gear sparked an investigation by local historians and that eventually led to answers from the U.S. Navy. Jack Green, a historian with the U.S. Naval Historical Center in Washington, tracked down the accident. He told the San Jose Mercury News that Goodspeed, then 21, and Paulsen, 22, were on a night training mission in a Douglass Dauntless when the aircraft banked left and dove to the ground, indicating the pilot may have been unconscious. At the time, he said, it would have been treated as a common, if tragic, fact of life for a country scrambling to build airplanes and train pilots. "There were more airplane accidents from training, in fact, than there were in the war itself. Accidents were a fact of life back then," Green said. But local authorities say they'll try to do what couldn't be done then. "We'd like to find the families and return the belongings," Mary Bannister, a water agency spokeswoman said. "But it's going to be tough."