Topic: NZ Defence Force - Te Ope Kātua

EXCLUSIVE: Family devastated NZDF unable to repatriate brother’s remains

By Talisa Kupenga
  • South Island

The family of RNZAF Officer William Anthony Devescovi is still struggling with news he won't be part of the Malaysia Singapore repatriations as planned next week. NZDF says he is buried with two other RNZAF airmen who died in a plane crash so it's not possible to identify and repatriate individuals.

John Devescovi was hoping to repatriate his brother Tony, but was told last week he can't come home.

"It took me a while for it to sink in I guess.  It hurt my boy more than anything mainly because he didn't believe they couldn't identify the remains as being Tony and we still don't."

Tony Devescovi was one of three RNZAF on board Bristol Freighter 5091, dropping supplies into the Malaysian jungle in 1956.  Nine were on board when it crashed.

FLYING HIGH: RNZAF Flying Officer William Anthony "Tony" Devescovi and his medals. PIC/Devescovi Family

Defence Minister Ron Mark says, "The information we have from the forensic team … is that the nature of the way in which the crew died makes it impossible for them to identify them, but we know from the records that the crew were buried together."

The men were buried at the crash site then reburied at Cheras Road Cemetery Kuala Lumpur in 1958.  But John says Tony's remains were moved again once at the cemetery and the family was not notified.

"[NZDF] said that there was nobody in the grave when they opened it they had to dig further to the side to at least find some of the remains.  How can they tell me there are three people in there and not be able to identify them is the part that we consider wrong.  There will be nothing to visit if anyone wants to go back there other than a headstone with his name on it."

The family planned to bury Tony on Auckland’s North Shore at Schnapper Rock, where the Airforce frequently fly overhead.  Now instead they will have a commemoration in the coming weeks.

“NZDF have been very supportive.  I just think it would have been easier if Tony stayed buried at the crash site then at least we’d know where he was.”

So far Tony’s are the only remains NZDF has been unable to return as part of the government's Te Auraki repatriation.

Next week's tranche is the second of four expected this year.

Ex RNZAF John Devescovi with brother Tony's portrait and medals.