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U.S. Teams Set to Search for MIAs in North Korea

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 26, 1996 – U.S. military recovery experts will travel to North Korea in July and September to search for the remains of Americans lost during the Korean War.

This is the first time North Korea has allowed U.S. recovery teams into the country.

The 10-man team will arrive in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang July 10. They will search the crash site of an F-80C jet about 18 kilometers from the Chinese border, said Allen Liotta, deputy director of DoD's POW/MIA Office at a recent Pentagon news conference. The mission will last 10 days.

Liotta led a DoD delegation to North Korea in June. Their North Korean counterparts took the delegation to the crash site. Liotta said the North Koreans allowed the delegation to walk the area, take pictures and speak to residents. He said the area was under cultivation and there was no surface wreckage.

The September search is also for a crash site. Another 10-man search team will journey to Nam Po City southeast of Pyongyang to examine an area where a B-29 bomber crashed. U.S. information has it that four parachuted and were captured and the rest were aboard the plane at impact. Of the four captured, North Korea returned three. After 45 years, there was no surface wreckage at this site either.

"Getting to the crash site is half the battle; finding something is the other half," Liotta said. "Part of the key is hopefully to find some local witnesses." He said the North Koreans will help the team find witnesses.

"Oftentimes what we find in the Asian culture ... is the crash becomes a local legacy, [part of] the local lore," he said. "Everybody knows where it is, where it went down. We find someone who can pinpoint the location of the crash site. Even if it's been cultivated on top of it, our experience in Southeast Asia has shown that when you dig down five, six, seven feet, you can find a wealth of crash material.

"So our confidence is if we can find the specific site and we dig there, that we will be able to recover remains and crash site related evidence that will help us account for the missing."

News reports of Americans still held as prisoners of war in North Korea have surfaced. Liotta said there has been a lot of hearsay about 10 to 15 Americans being held. The DoD POW/MIA Office is working to determine how credible these reports are.

Liotta said he asked the North Koreans if they are holding Americans. "They've maintained that they have no Americans being detained against their wills in North Korea," he said. The office fully intends to follow up the reports.

There are 8,100 Americans listed as unaccounted for from the Korean War. Liotta said he expects to recover between 3,000 and 4,000. "But that estimation is really going to be geared by our experience on the ground," he said. "If we get to some of these crash sites and we discover that the 45-plus years is making it difficult to retrieve crash site evidence or remains, that number could drop rapidly."

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