KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – The remains of eight British World War II airmen were buried Thursday with military honors in Malaysia, nearly 70 years after their plane crashed while on a mission in Southeast Asia.
The eight were crew members of a Royal Air Force plane that left Cocos Island on Aug. 23, 1945, to drop supplies to British soldiers in the finals days of Japanese occupation of what was then Malaya but never returned. The plane wreckage was found in a deep jungle by tribesmen in 1991, but the remains of the airmen were not uncovered until 2009.
In a somber ceremony, the eight men were remembered and honored by name as families and relatives paid their last respects. As an army bugler played, an honor guard lowered their remains in a single casket at a Commonwealth war grave in a suburb outside Kuala Lumpur.
"This is the final goodbye. I am pleased that after such a long time, there is a fitting conclusion to it all," said Geoffrey Dovey, 83. His brother William Kenneth Dovey was only 20 when he died.
Buried were 63 human bones and 18 possible human bones. They were found with personal belongings of the victims that have been returned to their families, including a charm bracelet, dog tags and rings.
It was the second mass military burial of its kind in Malaysia this year. The remains of nine British servicemen who died with three others in a 1950 plane crash while fighting communist insurgents in then-British-ruled Malaya were interred in the cemetery.
Both planes were found largely due to the Malaya Historical Group, a nonprofit organization that has carried out many expeditions to crash sites. Both expeditions were partly funded by the Malaysian army.
Shaharom Ahmad, a member of the wreck-hunting group, said it has also helped locate the crash sites of another 13 World War II aircraft, and hopes to get funds to unearth the remains of the victims. He estimated there were another 50 such crash sites that have not been explored due to the tough terrain.
"It is a labor of love" to help bring closure to families of those who died, said Shaharom.
Sue Raftree, a British defense ministry official, said there are at least 20,000 British airmen missing worldwide during the wars. She said the government doesn't fund expeditions to excavate for remains, but proper burials once remains are handed over to the government.