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DoD Searching for Bay of Pigs Remains in Nicaragua

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 24, 1998 – A nine-person DoD search and recovery team arrived in Nicaragua March 15 to hunt for remains of a B-26 bomber crew that crashed there in 1961. The two-man civilian crew was supporting Bay of Pigs-related operations.

The search and recovery team is from the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii. It includes a medic, photographer, and specialists in forensic anthropology, explosive ordnance disposal and mortuary affairs.

A spokesman in DoD's POW/Missing Persons Office said the use of defense resources to locate remains of nonmilitary personnel is considered case-by-case. "This recovery mission doesn't interfere with the primary mission of recovering U.S. servicemen who are missing in action," he said.

"Fortunately, we were able to take advantage of a gap in the team's schedule," the spokesman said. "This mission doesn't detract from their ability to meet their commitments in any other part of the world. There are other civilians for whom we continue to seek the fullest possible accounting in other parts of the world."

About 1,500 U.S.-backed anti-Castro exiles invaded Cuba on April 17, 1961, at the Bay of Pigs. Fidel Castro's forces crushed them. The bomber pilot and navigator died when they crashed April 19 in a remote area near the Bocay River in Nicaragua. The 27-year-old exiles were identified as pilot Crispin Garcia Fernandez of Havana and navigator Juan de Mata "Nabel" Gonzalez Romero of Las Vallas, Cuba.

"Mr. Garcia and Mr. Gonzalez distinguished themselves by their valor and their patriotism and made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our nation," CIA director George J. Tenet said in a statement. "The agency recognizes the sacrifices their families have made. Returning our fallen colleagues to the United States for burial is not only a humanitarian gesture, but also is the right thing to do."

The B-26 wreckage was found 37 years ago, but Nicaraguan and U.S. officials and a CIA security team decided to bury the men's remains at the crash site, Tenet said. "A Catholic missionary conducted appropriate religious rites. Their families, however, have always wanted their loved ones' remains located and returned to the United States for burial."

Janet Ray Weininger, who represents the two families, is traveling with the search and recovery team in Nicaragua. She's the daughter of Thomas "Pete" Ray, one of four Americans killed during the Bay of Pigs operation. The Cubans returned his remains to Alabama in 1979.

Acting on behalf of the two families, Weininger wrote Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart in April 1994 seeking assistance in obtaining CIA records on the crash. A spokesperson said the CIA released 60 related declassified documents in August 1997 that gave rise to the recovery mission.

Tenet said the CIA will reimburse DoD up to $70,000 to cover costs associated with the mission. "The operation may last up to five weeks," he estimated.

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