For much of World War II in the China–Burma-India theater, the only means of transporting aircraft, ammunition, supplies and personnel between India and China was across the Himalayas, the highest mountain range on earth. Between April 1942 and November 1945, airmen carried 650,000 tons of cargo to China “over the Hump,” as they called it. Each flight was a test of courage, skill and luck in the face of Japanese aircraft, mechanical failure and — more often — the elements, which together claimed a total of 594 aircraft and 1,659 lives.
On January 6, 1945, Curtiss C-46 Commando serial No. 42-96721 left China’s Kunming-Wujiaba airfield for Chabua Air Force Station in India. It never arrived, reporting stormy weather before vanishing somewhere in the Himalayas with its four-man crew and nine passengers.
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More than 70 years later, an adventurer named Clayton Kuhles led an expedition to find the lost C-46 at the behest of Bill Scherer, the son of 1st Lt. William K. Scherer, one of the aircraft’s passengers. “Lieutenant Scherer was an engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was in Kunming working on upgrading the airfield to accept B-29 aircraft,” says Kuhles, who has been climbing in the Himalayas since the mid-1990s and made his first discovery of a wrecked aircraft in the fall of 2002.
While engaged in the search, Kuhles learned of airplane wreckage discovered years earlier by the local Lisu people. “I was merely fortunate enough to meet the right people and to get them to guide me to the crash site location,” he says. He established the wreck’s identify via a serial number from the site. Snow cover kept Kuhles from finding any human remains, but his Lisu guides said they had seen remains and personal effects on previous visits.
Although Lieutenant Scherer’s remains have not been positively identified, his son, who was only 13 months old when his father disappeared, thought the discovery was good news. “All I can say is that I am overjoyed, just knowing where he is,” he said in an email to the Agence France-Presse news agency in January 2022. “It’s sad, but joyous.”