Scripps Oceanographers Featured in New Documentary on Project Recover

“To What Remains” has national premiere on Dec. 8

A new documentary chronicles the mission of Project Recover, the collaborative group of researchers featuring scientists from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography that uses 21st-century science and technology and historical research to find the final underwater resting places of Americans missing in action. The feature-length documentary, To What Remains, will be in theaters starting Dec. 7, honoring the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nationwide one-day event screenings will be held on Dec. 8, with screenings at Regal and AMC theaters in the San Diego region.

To What Remains is the story of Project Recover, a small team of accomplished scientists, oceanographers, archaeologists, historians, researchers and military veterans, who have dedicated their lives to scouring the depths of the ocean and the farthest corners of the earth, to search for, recover, and repatriate the remains of the more than 80,000 Americans missing in action since WWII.

“Being a part of Project Recover has provided a rewarding opportunity to recognize the sacrifices our servicemen have paid and give back to families who have lost loved ones,” said Scripps oceanographer and Project Recover co-founder Eric Terrill, who is featured in the documentary. “It is rare in scientific research to be involved in activities that have direct personal impacts; our participation in this effort has been humbling.”

In what one MIA family member aptly described as like “looking for the smallest needle in the largest haystack,” Project Recover team members comb through military action reports to identify broad swaths of ocean and land where U.S. servicemen were killed over 75 years ago, and conduct onsite searches using autonomous underwater vehicles,  as well as scuba dives by marine archaeologists and more. The team travels to some of the most beautiful locations in the world, where fierce combat once occurred.

In breathtaking imagery filmed over several years and intimate interviews with Project Recover team members and MIA families, To What Remains takes viewers inside this emotional journey to honor our fallen servicemen, from the discovery of wreckage on the seafloor in the South Pacific, to the living room of a stunned family in middle America, to a well-deserved final resting place at home.

While the search for a single crash site can require years of effort, the Project Recover team members are fueled by the sense of purpose that comes from identifying the remains of Americans who gave their lives in service, returning those remains to their proper home, and bringing closure to families who had nothing more than a picture on a mantle, vague memories passed down from prior generations, and unanswered questions.

Most recently, in August 2021, Project Recover announced its first recovery and identification from offshore Vietnam. U.S. Air Force Maj. Paul A. Avolese, 35, killed during the Vietnam War, was officially accounted for by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). Scripps researchers led by Eric Terrill and Andrew Pietruszka, along with members of DPAA and the Vietnamese Office For Seeking Missing Persons, deployed modern oceanographic instruments to relocate and document the B-52D Stratofortress that had gone down on July 7, 1967.

Additional public and private screenings, as well as online streaming availability, will be announced and posted at



In 2014, a partnership titled Project Recover was established with researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, University of Delaware, and BentProp Project. After receiving financial support from the Friedkin Foundation, Project Recover went global, expanding MIA search operations into 20 countries. In 2018, The BentProp Project name was retired and the 501c3 name became Project Recover, Inc. 

The work blends historical data from many different sources to optimize underwater search areas with scanning sonars, high definition and thermal cameras, advanced diving, and unmanned aerial and underwater robotic technologies. These new methods are now being applied globally where servicemen are still missing.

Information on finds by Project Recover are then transmitted to the DPAA for identification, family notification and ultimately repatriation. Project Recover has an expanding footprint, with cases developing for global search and discovery.

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.