U.S.-Vietnamese teams retrieved two sets of human remains in an unprecedented joint search of the countryside for airmen missing in the Vietnam War, officials said Wednesday.
But U.S. investigators said that one of the sets of remains, found in Lang Son province bordering China, was found buried with the remains of Vietnamese and probably is not American.
Bill Bell, a U.S. team leader, said searchers found areas where other remains might be buried and recovered pieces of aircraft wreckage. They finished their eight-day search through five provinces near Hanoi on Tuesday.
Leeches, Pouring Rain
The U.S. specialists left Wednesday for Bangkok, Thailand, but planned to return to Hanoi on Friday to discuss their findings and the possibility of more joint work, including excavations of crash sites.
The teams trekked through steep leech-infested mountains in pouring monsoon rains to reach sites where six airmen were shot down during the war, which ended in 1975. They interviewed villagers who witnessed the crashes.
Villagers led investigators to two sets of remains, in Lang Son and Ha Nam Ninh provinces, said Nguyen Can, head of Vietnam’s Office for Seeking Missing Personnel.
Can said the remains will be given to the United States after preliminary analysis by Vietnamese forensic experts. He said Vietnam does not have equipment for identifying the teeth, the key part of both sets of remains.
The six airmen were downed while on bombing missions from 1965 to 1967, Can said. U.S. officials said some of the airmen are believed to have survived the crash but there is no evidence they remain alive.
No Live Airmen Reported
“In all the places, we talked to people who witnessed the crashes, but none of them reported seeing any live airmen” involved in the six cases, Bell said.
Bell said villagers turned in pieces of wreckage when they heard the Americans were searching the area. The teams used metal detectors to locate areas where possible wreckage was covered over, he said.
U.S. bombers struck North Vietnam beginning in March, 1965, and over the next four years dropped more than 605,000 tons of bombs.
The joint project was a breakthrough because it was the first time Vietnam has allowed U.S. experts to search the countryside and because it may resolve some cases that Washington considers top priority among the 1,757 missing in Vietnam.
The six airmen are among 70 “discrepancy cases” that the United States says Vietnamese authorities should have information on. Such cases include airmen captured but never returned after U.S. forces withdrew from Vietnam in 1973.
Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach said Tuesday that Hanoi has agreed in principle to many more joint investigations over the next two months.