Divers found the remains of a World War II Finnish plane that was shot down by Moscow with an American diplomat on board.

HELSINKI (AP) — The World War II mystery of what happened to a Finnish airliner after it was shot down by Soviet bombers over the Baltic Sea appears to have finally been solved after more than eight decades.

The plane was carrying American and French diplomats in June 1940 when it was shot down a few days before Moscow annexed the Baltic states. All nine people on board were killed, including the two Finnish crew members and the seven passengers – an American diplomat, two French, two Germans, a Swede, and a dual Estonian-Finnish citizen.

An Estonia diving and rescue team said this week it had found well-preserved parts and wreckage from a Junkers Ju 52 plane operated by Finnish airline Aero, which is now Finnair. It was found off the small island of Kiri near Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, at a depth of about 70 meters (230 feet).

“Basically, we started from scratch. We took a completely different approach to the search,” explained Kaidu Bermis, spokesman for the Estonian diving and underwater surveying company Tuukritoode OU.

The civilian plane, named Kaliva, was shot down en route from Tallinn to Helsinki on June 14, 1940 – just three months after Finland signed a peace treaty with Moscow following the 1939-40 Winter War.

News of the plane’s fate was met with disbelief and anger by the authorities in Helsinki who were informed that it had been shot down by two Soviet DB-3 bombers 10 minutes after take-off from Olemist Airport in Tallinn.

“It was a unique thing for an airliner to be shot down in peacetime on a normal scheduled flight,” said Finnish aviation historian Karl Fredrik Geust, who has investigated the Kaliva case since the 1980s.

Finland remained officially silent for years about the details of the plane’s destruction, only publicly saying that a “mysterious crash” had occurred over the Baltic Sea, because it did not want to provoke Moscow.

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Although well documented through books, research and TV documentaries, the 84-year-old mystery has piqued the interest of Finns. The case is a key part of the Nordic country’s complex World War II history and highlights its troubled relations with Moscow.

But perhaps more importantly, the downing occurred at a critical time just days before Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union prepared to annex the three Baltic states, sealing the fate of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for the next half-century before it eventually reclaimed them. Independence in 1991.

Moscow occupied Estonia on 17 June 1940, and the ill-fated Kaliva was the last flight from Tallinn, even though the Soviets had already begun to impose a tight embargo on transport around the Estonian capital.

American diplomat Henry W. Antheil Jr., now considered one of the first American casualties of World War II, was on board the plane when it went down.

The 27-year-old Antheil, the younger brother of the famous composer and pianist George Antheil, was on an urgent government mission to evacuate sensitive diplomatic bags from the US missions in Tallinn and Riga, Latvia, as it became clear that Moscow was preparing to leave the country. Small Baltic swallow.

An Associated Press cable dated June 15, 1940 noted, “Henry W. Antheil Jr. of Trenton, New Jersey, attached to the United States Legation at Helsinki, was killed in the mysterious explosion of a Finnish plane yesterday.” In the American media, Antheil’s death was overshadowed by much bigger news from Europe at the time: the Nazi occupation of Paris.

The US Embassy in Tallinn has thoroughly documented and researched the case over the years.

Embassy spokesman Mike Snyder told the Associated Press that “news regarding the possible location of the wreckage of the Caliva passenger plane is of great interest to the United States, especially since one of the first casualties of World War II, diplomat Henry Antheil, fell.” As a result of the plane crash.

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Earlier this month, the US Ambassador to Estonia, George P. kent, A post shared by X Which included photos of Antheil and Kalifa and a US Foreign Service Association plaque in Washington engraved with Antheil’s name.

Caliva was carrying 227 kilograms (500 lb) of diplomatic mail, including Antheil’s luggage and items from two French diplomatic couriers – identified as Paul Longuet and Frédéric Marty.

Estonian fishermen and the operator of the lighthouse in Kiri told Finnish media decades after the plane was shot down that a Soviet submarine had surfaced near the Kaliva crash site and recovered floating debris, including bags of documents, which fishermen had collected from the site.

This has given rise to conspiracy theories regarding the contents of the bags and Moscow’s decision to shoot down the plane. It remains unclear why the Soviet Union specifically decided to shoot down a Finnish civilian airliner in peacetime.

“We’ve heard a lot of speculation about the plane’s payload over the years,” Guest said. “What was the plane transporting?” Many suggest that Moscow wanted to prevent sensitive materials and documents from leaving Estonia.

But he said that was probably just a “mistake” on the part of Soviet bomber pilots.

Various attempts to find Kaleeva have been recorded since Estonia regained its independence more than three decades ago. However, none of them succeeded.

Not even the US Navy’s oceanographic survey ship Pathfinder was able to locate the plane’s remains in a 2008 search conducted around the island of Kiri in a project commissioned by the Estonian government from the Pentagon.

“The wreckage is scattered and the sea floor is full of rock formations, valleys and hills. “It’s very easy to miss” small parts and debris from the plane, Bermis said. “Techniques have, of course, evolved a lot over time. As always, you can have good technology and not be so lucky.

A new video captured by Peremees’ underwater robots shows clear images of the Junkers’ three-engined landing gear, one of the engines and parts of the wings.

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Bermes and his group are “absolutely” convinced that the parts belong to the Caliva because of the distinct, distinctive design of the German-made Junkers Ju 52, one of the most popular European wartime passenger and transport aircraft of the 1930s and early 1940s.

The aircraft was operated by the Finnish national airline Finnair.

Jaco Schildt, Finnair’s chief operating officer, called the downing of Caliva “a very tragic and sad event for the fledgling airline” that Finnair, then called Aero, had in 1940.

“Finding the Caliva wreckage in some way brings closure to this matter, although it does not bring back the lives of our customers and crew who were lost,” Schildt said. “The interest in locating Kaliva in the Baltic Sea demonstrates the importance of this tragic event in the aviation history of our region.”

Bermis said his company will now focus on creating 3D images of the Kaliva wreckage and discuss with Estonian authorities the possibility of lifting some items that, if found, contain the plane’s cargo and human remains.

Snyder of the US Embassy in Tallinn said Washington was closely monitoring the diving group’s efforts.

“We are following the investigation at the site and would be happy to discuss with our Finnish and Estonian (NATO) allies any developments resulting from the recovery efforts,” Snyder said.

A stone memorial created in the early 1990s to the victims of the Kaliva crash is located in Kerry, and the preserved old Malmi Airport terminal building in Helsinki, where the Kaliva was supposed to arrive, has a memorial plaque set up in 2020 with the names of the victims. Victims.

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