German researcher seeks relatives of Quebec-born soldiers killed in 1944 plane crash
Published Saturday, March 17, 2018 2:28PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, March 17, 2018 7:09PM EDT
For Erik Wieman, researching downed wartime planes isn’t merely a passion – it’s a personal mission.
After hours upon hours of combing through records and databases, Wieman co-founded a “crash site research group” based from his home in Germany, a hotspot for WWII-era plane crashes.
Using a do-it-yourself investigative approach, Wieman says the goal is to obtain as much information as possible about each crash: names of passengers, circumstances, etc. With the help of an archeologically-savvy team, some crash sites are excavated. Warped fragments of bomber and fighter planes are pulled from the dirt, and a commemorative ceremony is held to immortalize those who perished.
While researching the Canadian crew of another crash site in Neuleiningen, the village where he lives, Wieman zeroed in on another WWII-era plane crash – this one, with a Quebec connection.
On the 24th of September, 1944 – during WWII -- a C-47 Dakota KG653 aircraft carrying 23 soldiers was en route to India to help build two new squadrons to join in the fight against Japan. The journey was plagued by bad weather and navigational problems.
When the craft appeared in the air over Germany during broad daylight, shots were fired from the ground. The gunman, a fighter pilot named Julius Meimberg, later wrote that he intended to ground the plane, but a short burst of bullets hit the wing of the plane, which broke off as the craft plummeted towards the ground.
All 23 soldiers aboard – Canadians, Brits and Australians -- perished in the crash. Only 16 graves were dug in the small cemetery in Neuleiningen; some airmen were buried in the same grave.
Wanting to know more, Wieman and a local newspaper collaborated in a call out for witnesses. Not expecting any return, he was shocked when fifteen people – all witnesses to the original crash in 1944 – reached out and offered their help.
Working together with the witnesses, Wieman centralized the search to two particular fields. Even decades after the crash, he located pieces of plastic windows, bakelite, tire fragments, and some small pieces of aluminum – some still featuring camouflage paint. The research group has applied for a permit to search the site with metal detectors and locate the remnants of the plane where it may be resting underground.
“This crash site, where so many people died, people walk by,” Wieman said. “It should, in our opinion, have a memorial to remember them. The crash site and the fates behind it should not be forgotten.”
With 23 airmen killed – most of them Canadian – Wieman says researching the Dakota KG653 crash is the group’s largest undertaking yet. And the outreach is now crossing borders.
Wieman is appealing to any living relatives of two Quebec-born members of the Royal Canadian Air Force who perished in the crash.
Appeals through the media have proven successful in the past, and Wieman said he hopes descendants of the fallen airmen will contact him and ultimately obtain a sense of both family history, and closure.
Anyone with information can contact Erik Wiman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who are they?
Leading Aircraftman Adelard Real Chevrier
Born: Dec. 9, 1915 at Vaudreuil, Quebec
Died: Sept. 24, 1944
Service Number: R/54834 Royal Canadian Air Force
Enlisted: Mar. 28, 1940 at Montreal, Quebec
Son of Arthur and Aldina (nee Boileau) Chevrier; husband of Marie Blanche, Loretta Chevrier, of Verdun, Quebec. Father of Norman and Christiane.
Leading Aircraftman Robert Marcel Armand Couturier
Born: July 12, 1921 at Notre Dame des Anges, Quebec
Died: Sept. 24, 1944
Service Number: R/174379 Royal Canadian Air Force
Enlisted: July 2, 1942 at Montreal, Quebec
Son of Armand and Blanche (nee Perron) Couturier of Montreal, Quebec. Brother of Rolland, Fernand, Andre, and Rita Couturier. Husband of Gilberte (nee Mason) Couturier; and father of Marie Irene Blanche (born July 6, 1944 at Moncton, NB)