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International effort recovers remains of WWII RAAF pilot



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MEDIA RELEASE THE HON BRUCE SCOTT, MP

MINISTER FOR VETERANS' AFFAIRS MINISTER ASSISTING THE MINISTER FOR DEFENCE

MIN 065/99 Tuesday, 9 March, 1999

INTERNATIONAL EFFORT RECOVERS REMAINS OF WW11 RAAF PILOT

The Royal Australian Air Force has positively identified the wreck of a RAAF World War II Kittyhawk fighter aircraft lost in action off Irian Jaya in 1944.

The pilot’s remains have been positively identified as those of Flying Officer Maurice Ambrose Bellert of the RAAF’s No 82 Squadron.

Flying Officer Bellert was attacking a Japanese position when his aircraft was hit by ground fire and crashed into the ocean on October 18, 1944.

The Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence, Mr Bruce Scott described the recovery as “a remarkable story of international cooperation and professionalism by members of the Australian Defence Force.”

“In a truly international spirit of understanding, the Indonesian authorities facilitated diplomatic clearances and the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) also assisted in the recovery operation,” he said.

The downed Kittyhawk (Serial number A29-641) was discovered by an Indonesian fisherman in about 27 metres of water several kilometres north-west of Manokwari in Irian Jaya. The fisherman reported his find to Mr Max Ammer, a diving operator and former Dutch commando, who confirmed that the remains of the pilot were still in the cockpit.

In a joint recovery operation, the Air Attache from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Group Captain Terry Delahunty, flew an Australian Defence Force team from Jayapura to Manokwari as Mr Ammer navigated his boat 370 kilometres to the dive site.

Led by RAAF Squadron Leader Ian Honey from the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby, the recovery team also comprised Major Julian Scamp, Lieutenant Commander Peter Manz and his photographer wife Tammy Peluso-Manz, and Mr Ammer of the Irian Diving Company.

Severe time restrictions because of the dive depth, poor visibility and the problem of heavy surf near the site meant the team had to use ingenuity and daring to achieve their goal.

Once recovered the remains were positively identified by a RAAF expert Group Captain Chris Griffiths, a leading forensic odontologist from Westmead Hospital, Sydney.

The pilot’s son and only child, Mr Allan Bellert of Canberra, has received the news he awaited all his life. Although only two years old when his father was lost in action, Mr Bellert had always hoped his father’s aircraft would be found. Unfortunately his mother, Nea ‘Raie’, who never remarried, died in Canberra several years ago.

Mr Bellert said his father grew up in the Queensland town of Bundaberg and, inspired by the town’s famous aviator, Bert Hinkler, Maurice Bellert was among the first Queenslanders to join the Empire Air Training Scheme.

Mr Scott said the RAAF would assist the family to attend a full military funeral at the Lae War Cemetery in mid-April.

For further information: Michael Priebe - Minister’s Office Ph 02 6277 7820 or 0418 482 514

Squadron Leader Mark Quilligan Ph 02-6265 2661 or 0419 220 890

Underwater vision of the recovery, stills of the aircraft (including a shot taken of the wreck from 4000 feet) and pictures of Flying Officer Bellert are available from the Defence Public Affairs Electronic Media Unit on 02-6266 6669 or 0418 633 025.

NOTE:

ALLAN BELLERT AND THE MINISTER WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR A DOORSTOP AT 1245 AT THE MINISTERIAL ENTRANCE OF PARLIAMENT HOUSE.