Local Students Search for Missing WWII Service Members
A team of students from Stockbridge High School is packing up this morning for the trip of a lifetime. In just a few hours, they'll head to the Republic of Palau, a small country in the western Pacific Ocean, to search for missing service members from World War II.
The 8 students on the Stockbridge Advanced Underwater Robotics team have been working all year to build an underwater remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, and to raise the money to go on this mission.
The ROV is made of PVC pipes, four electric motors, commercial grade thrusters, and three underwater cameras. It's capable of diving down 125 feet into the ocean and gathering images. Landlocked at Stockbridge High School, the advanced robotics team has limited options to test their ROV.
"We don't have our own pool here at the school," said Bob Richards, the robotics instructor at Stockbridge High School. "We have a cattle watering trough which we've tested it in the classroom."
Now the students are taking their robot from the cattle trough to the Pacific Ocean - traveling to the Republic of Palau, a small country 500 miles east of the Philippines. Along with the BentProp Project, the team will be searching for a B-24 bomber that was shot down in WWII, and they hope to find closure for the families of service members who have been missing for more than half a century.
"As a former service member, our country has a contract to service members not to leave them behind," said Richards. "And if you fall in combat, you're going to be recovered and returned to your family."
Richards says more than 78,000 service members are still missing from WWII. That means the students' trip of a lifetime could have a big impact on the families on US veterans.
"It's great to bring closure to the families," says team member Buck Poszywak, a junior at Stockbridge High School.
Jenny Spink, also a junior at Stockbridge, says she comes from a family of service members, and they are all proud of her for taking part in this challenge.
"My cousin is currently serving in Afghanistan and he's super excited," said Spink. "My great-grandpa served in WWII. So it feels really good to honor our country by doing this."
The students say even if they don't find the missing plane, the experience of building the robot and raising all the funds has been a success. The students were able to raise more than $40,000 for the trip by applying for several grants, reaching out to local businesses, and hosting community fundraisers.
"We had a lot of people tell us we couldn't raise $40,000 on our own," Spink said. "But we did it - so it feels really nice to prove everybody wrong."
The group will be in Palau for two weeks searching for the missing plane.
"It would be sweet to find an airplane or landing craft, but if we don't it's still a great trip," Poszywak said.
And it won't be all work for the students -- they'll get to snorkel, sight-see, visit local schools, and meet the president of Palau.
They plan to update their Facebook page daily with their mission's progress.