In Italy, a group of volunteers driven by pride for their homeland and the history that rests there travel the country in search of warplane crashes and other potential missing in action (MIA) incidents. Known as Archeologi dell’Aria, or Archaeologists of the Air, they tirelessly embark on their volunteer mission to find what remains of the lost aircraft of World War II.
With such closely aligned missions, Archeologi dell’Aria partnered with Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) archaeologists for the first time, creating what will be the first of many strategic partnerships with similarly-minded organizations. Such partnerships create force multipliers enabling the agency to expand its capacity and capabilities to carry out its mission worldwide.
“What amazes those of us who have volunteered to help the DPAA, is that they have the uncanny ability to maintain such professionalism without losing their humanity,” said Enzo Lanconelli, a volunteer with Archeologi dell’Aria. Missing since May 12, 1944, 1st Lt. Robert L. McIntosh was last seen flying his P-38 into thick cloud cover near Imola, Italy, and was declared dead by the War Department on Nov. 7, 1945. In an attempt to locate his remains, investigations of grave registrations were conducted in the vicinity of Imola following World War II. These investigations proved unsuccessful.
A team from Archeologi dell’Aria located a potential World War II crash site in 2013 near Santa Cristina, Italy. In August of that year, the team uncovered aircraft wreckage, including a portion of a 20mm machine gun with a serial number matching the one installed on McIntosh’s P-38. A single bone fragment was also recovered from the site and was sent to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner, who identified McIntosh through the use of mitochondrial DNA analysis.
In August 2015, the agency deployed a 13-member recovery team from Hawaii to join the Italian team to fully excavate the location. The hard work and dedication between the Italians and Americans made this mission a great success, bringing home personal effects and biological material evidence recovered from the site.
Through working with each other, members of the DPAA created such a strong bond with the Archeologi dell’Aria team that the resulting relationship was characterized by dependability, dedication, and friendship, according to forensic anthropologist and DPAA recovery leader, Dr. Paul Emanovsky.
“One of the volunteers even went so far as to take a month of unpaid leave just so he could lend his assistance to the mission,” Emanovsky said.
The McIntosh family has always hoped for the recovery and return of remains to be buried at home. Thanks to the partnership between the DPAA and Archeologi dell'Aria, the surviving members of McIntosh’s family will finally be able to lay him to rest on American soil.
"Thanks to the efforts of the Archeologi dell'Aria team, McIntosh's three sisters may finally get the closure that they have been waiting over seventy years for,” said Josh Frank, research analyst with the DPAA. “His identification is a direct result of their [Archeologi dell’Aria’s] hard work and passion, and I am looking forward to working with them to hopefully locate and identify other missing Americans in Italy."