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World War II hobbyist solves a family's decades-old mystery

The fate of Los Angeles pilot Lt. Moszek Murray Zanger had been unknown to his three nieces until Henry Sakaida, who studies WWII air combat incidents, stepped in.

May 29, 2012|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times

"We were looking for a Goodyear mark. Goodyear built Uncle Mike's plane," said Talbutt. "I drew the little symbol on my backpack to show people. It was a capital G with a small capital A within it."

The sisters were surprised by the villagers' enthusiasm. "They'd built a shelter out of banana leaves and a place for us to sit to get out of the rain or sun. They'd bailed as much water out of the crater as they could. It was as if they were looking for one of their own. I've never met people like this before in my life," said Talbutt, 69, a retired teacher from Elmsford, N.Y.

Soon, villager Veline Wesley shouted out that she had found a piece of metal — a 4-foot section of wing strut — with the Goodyear symbol stamped on it. A cheer went up and the search was over.

"It was unbelievable. Everything couldn't have happened more perfectly," said Susan Nishihira, a 66-year-old retired art coordinator from Kirkland, Wash. "My husband had come back from the recon three days earlier and said, 'Don't get your hopes up — the wreckage is really embedded.'"

Nishihira said a village elder "asked the spirits to release the pieces. And that's what happened."

Hanigan, a 61-year-old retail worker from North Hollywood, said she and her sisters were at first skeptical when Sakaida suggested a trek to Papua New Guinea. "We said, 'Yeah, yeah,'" she remembers.

"But this was a life-changing, transformational thing for all of us," she said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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