7 Americans, 9 Vietnamese Die in Viet Helo Crash (Updated)
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 10, 2001 Editor's Note: Names of the Americans killed in the crash have been added. U.S. Pacific Command officials in Hawaii released the names April 9 at 7 p.m.
Seven U.S. troops and nine Vietnamese civilians died April 7 when their Russian-made MI-17 transport helicopter reportedly crashed into a mountain in central Vietnam.
The helicopter crashed during a routine mission while preparing for a recovery operation involving unaccounted-for Americans lost during the Vietnam War, Army Lt. Col. Franklin Childress said during a press conference April 7 at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii.
The Americans killed in the crash were identified as Army Lt. Col. Rennie M. Cory Jr., commander, Detachment 2, Joint Task Force-Full Accounting; Army Lt. Col. George D. Martin III, incoming commander; Air Force Maj. Charles E. Lewis, deputy commander; Army Sgt. 1st Class Tommy J. Murphy, mortuary affairs team sergeant, Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii; Navy Chief Petty Officer Pedro J. Gonzales, corpsman; and Air Force Master Sgt. Steven L. Moser and Tech. Sgt. Robert M. Flynn, linguists. U.S. Pacific Command officials in Hawaii released the names April 9 at 7 p.m.
The Vietnamese dead include the three-member crew and four aircraft technicians. Also killed were two members of the Vietnamese agency that assists U.S. Pacific Command's Joint Task Force-Full Accounting in its investigation and recovery efforts.
President Bush offered his condolences, saying, "The families of the service personnel lost in today's tragic accident know better than most the contribution their loved ones made in bringing closure to scores of families across America.
"Today's loss is a terrible one for our nation," Bush said. "Although not lost in a hostile act, like those for whom they search, they, too, have lived lives of great consequence, answering a call of service to their fellow citizens."
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld noted that this accident marked the first loss of life of U.S. and Vietnamese personnel since joint teams started searching for remains of missing U.S. servicemen in 1985.
"We've recovered and identified the remains of more than 600 Americans and continue to search for those still missing in Southeast Asia," he said.
Calling the work of the Joint Task Force-Full Accounting, Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii and their Vietnamese counterparts "a noble calling," Rumsfeld said the joint teams have maintained a remarkable safety record.
"To the families of those whose loved ones have yet to be accounted for, be assured that our mission will continue, even in the face of this tragedy," he said.
Task force spokesman Childress said the joint U.S.-Vietnamese team was doing preliminary work to ensure logistics and infrastructure were set up for a recovery and investigation team scheduled to arrive in Vietnam on April 28 and 29.
"We normally send a recovery team of about 95 personnel who deploy to six separate recovery operations in Vietnam," he noted. "The recovery operation is supposed to start in the first week of May."
He said the accident is a tragedy for Americans and Vietnamese. "We don't want to minimize the tragedy for the Vietnamese because their families feel it just as much as ours do," Childress said.