U.S. Victims of Downed DC-7 Handed Over
The bodies of five Americans killed when their locust-spraying plane was shot down by rebels have been given to the U.S. Embassy here, Algerian government and U.S. officials said Friday.
About 100 personal items of the five were also handed over, the officials said.
The DC-7 was hit on Dec. 8 by a ground-to-air missile halfway between the Mauritanian border and the defensive perimeter Morocco built against a guerrilla group known as the Polisario Front. A companion aircraft, another DC-7, also was hit but managed to land safely.
The bodies were brought to the embassy by a Polisario Red Cross unit, officials said.
The Polisario Front, which has been fighting Morocco for independence of the former Spanish territory of the Western Sahara for more than a decade, admitted it downed the U.S. plane after mistaking it for a Moroccan military jet.
The victims have been identified as Wesley Wilson, 46, of North Platte, Neb.; Joel Blackmer 46, of Phoenix; Blackmer’s stepson, Frank Christopher Kennedy, 21, also of Phoenix; Bernard George Rossini, 49, of Tempe, Ariz., and Francis Anthony Hederman, 47, of Cody, Wyo.
The men had been under contract to the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of a major desert spraying operation to combat swarms of locusts in the Western Sahara region, U.S. officials said. However, that contract ran out one day before the attack.
The FBI last week launched a criminal investigation into possible violations of U.S. law, including one that deals with destruction of U.S. aircraft overseas.
The plane was the fifth shot down over the territory since the Sahara war broke out in 1975. Previous incidents involved private French aircraft.