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Family MIA dedicated to find 1944 wreck of Air Force bomber

Six crew members never found

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

BURGH-HAAMSTEDE - Relatives of US Air Force Sgt. Leroy E. Leist have been given new hope that the remains of the WWII gunner, and those of five of his crewmates, still may be found. Leistís widow, a daughter and great-grandchildren recently visited the Netherlands where they met with members of a volunteer diving group which searches for the wreck of the missing B17 bomber. The plane went down in the North Sea on February 4, 1944.

Leist and five of his crew perished in the crash of the B17 after it had been hit by shells from a German fighter plane. The remains of four others aboard the B17G s/n 42-37975 of the 418th Bomb Squadron of the 100th Bomb Group soon after washed ashore on the beaches of Ouddorp and Ellemeet. Leist officially still is listed as missing-in-action and as such his name is inscribed on a wall at the war cemetery at Margraten, in Southern Limburg.

In 1999, Leistís daughter Adrian began her search for the remains of her MIA father, after seeing photographs of the Margraten cemetery for the first time, and listening to a visiting Dutch tourist who gave a description of the war memorial. Her quest includes an appeal on the internet, which generated a response from the Dutch diving team. The divers, after a number of forays into the depths of the North Sea, have concluded that the wreck lies about one kilometre off Ouddorpís lighthouse, buried at a depth of six metres, covered by layers of sand.

Confirmation of the find is expected perhaps as early as this summer, when specialized instruments will be used to search for pieces of wreckage. It also will be possible to ascertain whether the wreck still holds human remains. If this can be confirmed, the U.S. authorities will assist in the recovery and identification purposes.

To pay their respects, Sergeant Leistís family recently dropped flowers over the likely location of the wreck. The possibility of closure after more than sixty years, seems near to them.