Appeal Launched to Find Family of Spitfire Pilot After Wreck Discovered

The recent discovery of a Spitfire Mk IX along the Adige River near Cavarzere, Italy has prompted an appeal to locate family members of the pilot, whose body was recovered during the excavation.

On March 5, 1945, 24-year-old Warrant Officer John Henry Coates of York departed from Rimini in Spitfire PT410 along with five other 111 Squadron Spitfires to attack barges located near Venice. During the mission the aircraft encountered a barrage of anti-aircraft fire and Coates’ machine was hit, causing it to crash to the ground and explode.

Coates was listed as missing in action, but following a two-year investigation archeologists from Romagna Air Finders and Air Crash Po located the crash site using charts and flight records from the time. With officials from the British Embassy in Rome on hand, the team excavated the area and recovered parts of the machine’s engine, wings and fuselage as well as cockpit components and ammunition. They also discovered human remains belonging to the pilot.

With Coates now able to receive a proper burial, an effort has been launched to trace his family and locate relatives.

His parents were Eliza and John Coates, whom, the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington, York, believes, may have had six other children and connections with the Rowntree chocolate factory in the city. John Coates is thought to have been a confectionary maker who died in 1954. George Coates, a brother of the pilot, is believed to have two grandsons – Matthew James Coates, born in 1974, and Robert John Coates, born in 1972, both in Howden. The museum has also established that the pilot’s youngest sister, Molly, had two grandchildren called Julie Hunter, born 1958, and Paul R.F. Hunter, born 1960 and then living in Barkston Ash.

Researchers are hoping that Coates’ relatives will reach out to them, and have offered to provide the family with recovered parts from the aircraft as a gift.

(via Yorkshire Post)