Team Searches for Missing WWII Airman - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Team Searches for Missing WWII Airman

Ensign Harry Warnke, USN Ensign Harry Warnke, USN
James Pokines James Pokines
J-PAC Team J-PAC Team

HAIKU VALLEY, Oahu (KHNL) - Their motto is "leave no man behind, no matter how long it takes."

Rescue efforts continue to recover a World War II airman that crashed high in the Ko'olau Mountains in 1944, but it's no easy task.

The terrain is very difficult at the crash site. At the 3200 foot mark, a team with the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command or "J-PAC" is working to bring home the remains of Ensign Harry Warnke.

"If you go out and fight for your country and you fall their going to come and look for you. And this is fulfilling that promise. Sometimes it takes a long time to get to them but the United States is going to go after you wherever you're at" says team leader Alexander Vanston.

Lt. Vanston is part of the twelve member team working to recover the remains of Ensign Harry Warnke.  He crashed during a training mission in 1944 and his crash site was discovered in 1999.

"The crash site is in a tight ravine at about a 25 degree slope and it's very difficult just getting to the site from where the helicopter lands" say James Pokines, forensic anthropologist.

Once on the ground, the crews hike and then rappel down to the muddy site.  Soil is then excavated, and brought down to an area near Wheeler Army Airfield for examination.

"The site's mostly wet clay so it's very difficult to get through a screen so that we can fine bone of dogs tags or anything like that. We wouldn't be able to see a lot of it, we'd miss most of it" says Pokines.

Right now Warnke's family has an empty grave with a marker on it.  With a little help from Mother Nature, Pokines and his team hope to change that.

"If you look up into the mountains and see that one cloud parked up there...that's us. We're always parked underneath that cloud. So there's a very good reason Ensign Warnke is still up there after all these years. It's very difficult to get up there."

Late this afternoon we learned nine members of the J-PAC team were stranded on the mountain side overnight on Thursday as a result of the thick cloud cover, and weather permitting, the team hopes to be finished with this mission by the end of the month.

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