U.S.-Viet Team to Explore B-52 Crash Site Nov. 18

Times Staff Writer

On Nov. 18, for the first time since 1975, a team of American experts will explore the site of a crashed U.S. warplane in Vietnam, and a high Pentagon official voiced hope Friday that Hanoi will continue to cooperate in accounting for Americans still listed as missing in action during the Vietnam War.

Richard L. Armitage, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, announced an agreement under which 11 Americans will join 10 Vietnamese in excavating the site where a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber crashed in a rice paddy several miles north of Hanoi in December, 1972.

Because of the number of U.S. and South Vietnamese planes shot down in the Hanoi-Haiphong air corridor, Armitage said, excavation work lasting about 10 days and costing about $150,000 will be required to identify the plane and its crew. The B-52 normally has a complement of six men.


Armitage said U.S. and Vietnamese negotiators plan a technical meeting Wednesday in Hanoi, the fifth of its kind this year, to “discuss and exchange information relating to the prisoner-of-war and missing-in-action issues.” More than 2,400 Americans are listed as missing during the war in Indochina, nearly 1,800 of them in Vietnam.

7 More Bodies Due

Armitage said the Hanoi government has agreed further to turn over to U.S. officials “in the near future” the remains of seven more men believed to be Americans.

Under an agreement reached last August, Vietnam has repatriated the remains of 26 Americans, five of whom, including Navy Lt. (j.g.) Richard C. Sather, of Pomoma, Calif., the first American shot down over North Vietnam, were officially identified Friday. Nineteen others had been identified previously. Sather was 26 when he crashed in North Vietnam in August, 1964.

In addition, Armitage said, the government of Laos, where 556 Americans are listed as unaccounted for, has agreed in principle to early excavation of “possibly more than one site” in addition to one explored last February in which 13 bodies were recovered.

“We believe that the Vietnamese have considerably more information on the whole subject of prisoners of war and missing in action than they have thus far shared,” Armitage said. “But we do think that this is a further indication of some progress on the issue and an indication of the willingness of the Vietnamese to try to get the fullest possible accounting within two years.”

Hanoi Asked Nothing

Armitage told a questioner that Vietnam had not asked for anything in return for its agreement to the joint excavation work. He said that the United States has “applied pressure and a very conscious and consistent strategy” designed to make it clear to Hanoi that, “while administrations may come and go, the issue won’t go away . . . until the American public has surely gotten the fullest possible accounting.”


Asked why he thinks the Vietnamese appear to have become more cooperative, Armitage said he believes “that they’ve come to a conscious conclusion they might just as well go ahead and wrap this one up.”

Armitage said the remains of four of the five servicemen most recently identified were flown Friday from Hawaii to Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The exception was Lt. Sather, whose family asked that he be buried in Hawaii.

The other four who were identified: Navy Cmdr. Randolph W. Ford of Gainesville, Fla., who was 34 when he was shot down over North Vietnam on June 11, 1968; Army Sgt. Richard F. Williams of San Leandro, Calif., 40 when reported missing in South Vietnam on Jan. 8, 1968; Marine Sgt. Joseph S. Zawtocki Jr. of Utica, N.Y., 21 when reported missing in South Vietnam on Feb. 8, 1968, and Army Cpl. Francis E. Cannon, of Phoenix, 23 when he disappeared in South Vietnam Jan. 8, 1968.