arly on the morning of January 25, 1944, eight young American airmen strode across the gravel of an airfield in Kunming, China, toward a B-24J bomber. Their mission was to fly the 67-foot-long aircraft, its nose bedecked with a picture of a pinup girl and the slogan “Hot as Hell,” over the Himalayas to pick up supplies from British-held India. It was a routine run but still plenty dangerous. The weather over the mountain route, known as the Hump, was fearsomely unpredictable and severe. Some 600 American planes would crash in the area by the war’s end. The men settled into their positions: two pilots, a navigator, a bombardier, a radio operator, a flight engineer, and two gunners. At 7:40 a.m., the plane roared up into the sky. Smooth sailing as they climbed to 15,000 feet. But three hours into the trip, thick clouds rolled in. The pilots could barely see a mile in front of them. Somewhere in that vast mountain range, out of sight and out of touch with their base, the Hot as Hell went down. In 1947, with the fighting over, the United States mounted a campaign to find the bodies of the more than 300 Americans who had gone missing in plane crashes on the Hump. The searchers traveled by truck, mule, and foot, fording rain-swollen rivers and fending off malarial mosquitoes, but never found the spot where the Hot as Hell fell to Earth. The area in which it presumably lay, the search party’s official report declared, “encompasses many thousands of square miles of mountainous jungle terrain, some of it inaccessible, unexplored, and uninhabited.” Their conclusion: “Any further attempt for the recovery of their remains would prove unsuccessful.” Sixty-eight years later, on a sunny October morning, Meghan-Tómasita Cosgriff-Hernández came clambering along a rocky trail 9,400 feet up in the Indian Himalayas. The anthropologist and her 12 teammates had hiked uphill under a glaring sun for more than two days to reach the spot where they now stood. Before them was a steep gully, thick with trees, brush, and boulders—and littered with a weather-beaten propeller, wing, engine, and the other ragged pieces of what had been the Hot as Hell. The group’s mission was as straightforward as it was daunting: search through acres of that jungly growth and unstable scree for the remains of the airplane’s crew. Well, thought Cosgriff-Hernández, looking over the expanse, let’s get to it.
Even with international protections, the Galápagos Islands are becoming more vulnerable to humans