Crash Site Search and Site Identification for Howard Krippner (Compiled on December 14, 2004, by Patrick Lucas, with assistance by Virginia Krippner)
To find the location near Yueyang city, Hunan province, China, of the August 27, 1943 crash of pilot Howard L. Krippner (Captain, #0-42656, 14th Air Force, 76th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group; hometown of record Seattle, Washington) based on a request from his niece, Virginia Lynn Krippner.
2) Supporting Materials for Search:
Supporting materials include earlier search reports, period maps, modern maps, and most crucially, materials provided to the family shortly after the crash by another pilot on that flight and commander of the 76th squadron, Major Robert Costello--these included a detailed narrative, as well as printed and hand drawn maps.
3.)Locaation of Search Region: Examination of previous search reports revealed difficulties at the time in narrowing the area to be searched within Hunan province, with searches even being carried out in adjacent Jiangxi province. Considerable confusion surrounded even the romanization of place names, for example, with searchers unable to find a match for the town ¡®Sitang¡¯ (even though there is plainly a town with this name on at least some period maps; It was clear the searches were most likely never carried out in the actual crash area, and given the detailed narrative and maps provided by the eyewitness Major Costello, it was decided to simply trust those materials and search in the area of Hunan province near Yueyang city (Yoyang in previous romanization) and modern day Xitang (Sitang), as Major Costello had indicated.
4) Search Narrative :
We contacted Mr. MAO Weihua, of the Yueyang city Foreign Affairs Office (FAO) many weeks in advance of our visit. Mr. MAO was very cordial and indicated that a visit by our team would not be a problem. Late on the evening of Wednesday December 8, 2004 our "Remembering Shared Honor" team composed of Mr. ZHOU Zuxin, Mr. HUANG Xiling, and Mr. Patrick LUCAS, arrived in Yueyang city, Hunan. The next morning we met with Mr. MAO in his office. Mr MAO was cordial but indicated that because of our unofficial and non-governmental status, the local government could not officially help (in particular, they did not dare take active part in the search), but would provide unofficial help. This unofficial help turned out to be quite valuable as it included a photocopy of an official map of the specific search area, and previous telephone calls to local government offices in rural areas--meaning that our search was very unlikely to be stopped by suspicious local officials. We are very grateful for his help in this regard--to someone not familiar with China this help may seem small, but really Mr. MAO opened all the doors for us this way.
Immediately afterwards we headed east to Kangwang township by taxi, the location roughly matching the 'x' marked on a printed flight map provided by Major Costello. We were met cordially by township officials (including Mr. PENG who also provided an excellent lunch later) and then went to interview local people (including 77 year old Mr. YAO). However interviews indicated that there had definitely been no crashes in the area during the target time period, and several other aspects of the local area did not seem to match Major Costello's other materials. Some people had heard of a crash farther north on Kunshan (mountain). We then found a young, local minivan driver, Mr. FENG Tu, and as we headed towards the next township (Sanhe), we chatted with him about our search. He was very interested and volunteered that he knew at least one other local elder and asked if we wanted to interview him. We did and so we turned around and went back to Kangwang township, but once to the house of this elder, we discovered he was not in. Mr. FENG then took us to meet a teacher (Mr. YAO at the number 7 high school) in the local high school. That person again did not know of any local crashes, but called around, and provided us with an introductory letter for teachers at the Pingdi school (north), and provided some other possible leads. One of the gatekeepers at the school, an elderly Mr. GE, had also heard some stories of a crash near Kunshan, and even knew of possible eyewitnesses. He graciously jumped into the van with us and we headed north towards Kunshan.
Eventually we arrived in Sandian village, Xitang township, and interviewed Mr. LI Zhiyun, 78 years. He confirmed a crash near Kunshan, but many details seemed off, including that this crash was the result of an in air battle and other factors. Mr. LI personally helped carry out plane parts in 1944, the crash occurring at least some months before that time.
We headed on to Xu Jia Liang village and by dark found the house of 86 year old Mr. XU Simin, who instantly started cooking dinner for us under a 25 watt light bulb over a small fire pit with a hanging kettle. Slowly over the evening as he cooked we got out of him that he knew just where the crash was and were the body was buried. The facts however, including a very definite date of '7th month day 1, 1943' on the lunar calendar (August 1, 1943 on the solar calendar) just did not seem to match. We left and returned late to Yueyang, then made the trip back during daylight the next day (December 10, 2004), and met with Mr. XU again (providing him with gifts of meat, eggs, and cigarettes after his warm hospitality of the night before), and we also hooked up with other elders. They were all definite on the date of Aug 1. At the crash site (no artifacts) the descriptions did not seem to match what we were searching for, and we had conclusive first hand eyewitness testimony that there were at least three crew on that plane. Other evidence suggests that this may have been a Japanese plane shot down by American fighters. An exact burial spot was located for these remains (this information is being submitted to JPAC just in case). We still had a rumor of a plane going down at Pingdi and an introduction letter for the high school there, so after a wonderful lunch, again the guests of the XU family, we made our way to Pingdi, arriving in the late afternoon. At Pingdi the teachers and administrators at the high school were very gracious and interested, but knew of no local crash. They called an elder and he said there was a crash, but it was far from our search area and just could not be related. We returned to Yueyang. However, it became apparent at this point that we were not interpreting Major Costello's narrative and hand-drawn map correctly, that we had not understood important clues in these materials, and so thus the crash location should be farther north and east, more in the area of Yuenan township, where we had not searched at all. The next morning we headed towards Yuenan township, but ran in circles for a time because of misunderstandings between the driver and our team. Then before we got to Yuenan township, at Hengpu township, we heard about a crash in the mountains. We climbed into Lijiu village and interviewed two elders (Mr. LI Jiwu, 80 years, and another) who gave very specific (and accurate as it turned out later) accounts of a crash over the mountain range at Jianshe village, and the details seemed a very good match to our search. We traveled back around the long hard roads and finally to Jianshe. Interviews of Mr. LI Yuanshi (69 years) and his uncle (in his 80s) provided details confirming a small American airplane with one crew. The body was buried whole. However the crash time was too late in the afternoon (2:00 pm to 4:00 pm roughly), and eventually coherent testimony was presented that the body was recovered by the Americans about two years later. Also, other facts did not seem to match Major Costello's materials. Even though it was getting late we were determined to get to Yuenan township, thinking that we had finally understood the materials. Almost dark and we finally got to Yuenan township, then we drove south about three miles (as indicated on Major Costello's materials), stopped, got out of the car and asked if there had been a crash nearby during the war. Immediately people said yes, right on that hill over there. We tracked down approximately five elderly witnesses (including the particularly kind and helpful brothers DU Xianqi and DU Xianbao, 73 and 75 years respectively) and heard accounts that did not contradict Major Costello's record in any detail, and matched all the details in a broad sense (that is, no one remembered an exact date, but rather a rough matching time period). A return to the village the next morning and further interviews with new witnesses produced the same result and a crash site visit provided more matches to Major Costello¯s materials (these details and our reasoning are organized in a section below; a sample of witness contact information is included in a further section).
The team left the village at around 2:30 pm, arrived at the airport at Changsha by 6:00 pm, and were all home in our respective Guangxi and Guizhou provinces, and Beijing city, by around midnight of Sunday the 12th.
5) Description of Crash Site:
The crash occurred on a hillside less than 1 kilometer to the west of the Huawu unit of Daling village (), which is located somewhat north of Tangqiao village. Debris was spread over a very large area on the north side of the hill and the farmland on the north and northwest sides below it. The hillside is of a gravel and soil mix, and the farmland below it is paddies for intensive wet rice cultivation. A new highway had cut right through the middle of the hill, but the initial impact point on the east side of the highway, and the location of an explosion on the west side of the highway (there may have been more than one explosion or impact) were not destroyed in the highway construction, and are being used for non-intensive agriculture. Some elders said that the location of the explosion had never been used for agriculture before just a few years ago, and the ground there had been largely undisturbed until then. Until recently, when that area was planted with fruit trees and partially terraced, the pit left from the explosion had been visible and was largely undisturbed.
6) Witness Descriptions of Crash Events: At noon the small single engine plane was flying north from the direction of Taolin trailing thick black smoke and struck a southern small rise on the hill, shearing off some small trees and making a gouge in the soil, then at least part of the plane spun off to the left (west) around the hillside and struck there, exploding on impact. Some of the plane probably did not make it to the explosion site, and there was not time to have all the interviewees walk through the exact locations of plane fragments and human tissue pieces on site (a couple did show us approximates).
It is unclear if there was more than one explosion, and if it was just fuel related or included munitions (the flight intelligence report lists only 5000 rds., no bombs)--however the violence and almost complete disintegration of the plane and the pilot described by villagers, as well as the blasting out of a pit at the explosion site seems to indicate explosive munitions. Most villagers indicate that there were very few pieces of the plane intact, and most of it was reduced to small fragments. One woman who was approximately 9 years at the time did describe some larger pieces. The body was reduced to small fragments, which were spread in every direction over a large area. Most people talk of seeing pieces of flesh or skin no larger than the size of a hand with outstretched fingers, and included a piece of scalp with 'yellow' hair (in China this usually covers the range from blond to brown, and excludes red or black hair). The largest was a part of leg (conspicuously with 'thick yellow hair') with foot and shoe--although we could not get a convincing first hand account of actually seeing this part, but rather this seemed to be a second hand account. We could not find any account of any larger body parts. However, there are certainly more accounts that could be recorded in the village that just might provide more details regarding remains. There was also a fire, and much thick smoke, but it was hard to confirm the exact range of fire on the hill via eyewitness accounts because of time limitations. However we consistently got the impression that the fire did not cover too much area and may have not included the site of the explosion.
After the crash the Japanese garrison right across the road sealed off the site very quickly and collected up items of interest to them. Only children dared approach the site and the Japanese at this time because of the danger presented by the troops who were considered quite hostile by the locals. At some later point the Japanese took away the remainder of the airplane pieces, but it is not known what happened to those pieces finally, but they are definitely not in the area today.
Witnesses interviewed included a full range of ages between 70¡¯s and 80¡¯s, more males than females. Since this is a rural community, most families are farming families with plots right in the area of the village, including many in the debris field.
7) Estimate on Possibility of Remains Recoverability (non-expert)
Given the lack of an account of seeing any large body parts and the positive testimony of seeing only small fragments, added to the recent highway building, and agriculture in the last 60 years, it seems unlikely that anything could realistically be recovered now. Highway construction through the middle of the site has undoubtedly also reduced the number of artifacts that might be found. Since construction projects in such a quickly growing China frequently cut through even graveyards with little work done to preserve remains, it is extremely unlikely that anyone would have taken notice of any bones or artifacts during highway construction.
Additionally, we could get no accounts of anything being done specifically to the body parts. Witnesses said even if they had wanted to, it would have been impossible, with so many small pieces spread in every direction, and with the Japanese troops watching (who often retaliated for such acts by the Chinese). Witnesses also said there were (unrestrained) dogs in the village at the time of the crash.
No one mentioned coming across remains while farming in the years since the crash, although further interviews might clarify this point. Additional interviews in the future are possible as we did not interview every elder by a long shot, and certainly the villagers would also be able to point out the exact location of the Japanese encampment and the pillbox on the hill behind the village.
A better understanding of the shape and nature of the debris field, as well as a detailed reconstruction of the specific crash events would bring a final conclusion to this question. There were a few small patches around the crash area that were not utilized for agriculture until recently, although this is still a very long shot and probably not very realistic that something may be recoverable. Regardless, this is a non-expert opinion, and the crash site must still be presented to JPAC.
8) Evidence and Reasoning for Confirming as Crash Site There is always going to be a judgement call in something like this after sixty years and without significant artifacts, but the information seems very conclusive. There are several areas to look at, including: ¡§ Matching Timeframe: Witnesses are very specific and consistent: The crash was at noon, around the month of August (at least once indicated as late August), years 1943-44. Several said it was August during a year at the height of Japanese power in the region, which would have been 1943 (forces were weakened some there after the start of the Ichigo campaign in 1944). All said it was a year or more before the end of the war.
However, the most key of all are Major Costello's amazing materials--his detailed narrative, excellent hand drawn map, as well as the printed flight map he provided. These in fact had all of the information we needed once we could understand them and understand problems of scale and his lack of knowledge of place names on the ground. The easy matching points are:
Terrain: Major Costello mentions mountainous terrain throughout. A look at a topographical map shows this kind of terrain in the crash area, and the lack of such terrain near the 'x' on the flight map.
Road: Major Costello says the squadron was attacking a road and that the crash was to the left of the road (drawn west of the road on Major Costello¡¯s hand drawn map), which places the crash site to the west of the road, just where we found it. In addition this means Howard Krippner and the squadron were flying northward, matching eyewitness accounts. Astonishingly, the two curves in the road that Major Costello draws--the distinctive long U-shape followed by another smaller curve--are still there near the hill, and can even be seen from the top of the hill.
The actual crash site was on a hill, the hill in the right place in relation to the road, the initial impact is just where Major Costello drew it on the south side of the hill. The shape of the hill he draws is actually even similar to the real hill. ¡§ Human Remains: The brother of Howard Krippner, Everett Krippner, confirms that Howard Krippner indeed had ¡°light brown¡± hair, as the witnesses reported seeing. Stream: Although weak evidence, Major Costello mentions a stream near there and there indeed is one there.
9.)Additionally there is the factor of:
Brute force elimination of other sites: We searched most of the area within the westward arc of the road and found two other crashes, and throughout much of that area confirmed the lack of crashes. Villagers at the crash village said they did not know of any other crashes in that area. We are very unlikely to have missed another crash in the zones around the crash area. But the real key here is to understand that Major Costello drew his amazing map highly out of scale and from memory, then when you also realize that the dashed line road really matches the dashed line on the flight map, it is very easy to see that the village Major Costello draws is really around Yuenan township today . In Major Costello¡¯s letter he states, then go "another 3 miles to the bend in the road" and there you have the crash site, just as we found it. The railway, and even the forked stream and fork in the road on his hand-drawn map correlate once you scale and locate the maps correctly,
There cannot be much question: That hill is the site of Howard Krippner's crash.