Undersea Drones Find Remains of Airman Missing Since 1967

Robots have joined search for Vietnam MIAs
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 2, 2021 1:37 PM CDT
Undersea Drones Find Remains of Airman Missing Since 1967
Military officials describe robotic underwater vehicles as a "force multiplier."   (Getty Images/3dsam79)

More than a quarter of the 1,584 Americans still listed as missing in the Vietnam War disappeared over or near the country's territorial waters, and advances in technology may help bring closure to more families. Underwater drones have been used to locate the wreckage of one of two B-52s that collided over the South China Sea in July 1967 and the remains of one airman have been recovered, the New York Times reports. Major Paul Avolese, who died weeks after his 35th birthday, has now been declared accounted for, and the nonprofit Project Recover hopes to find the remains of two other servicemen from the same aircraft, including Maj-Gen William Crumm, the first US general to die in the war. Multiple other searches between 1993 and 2020 failed to find the crash site.

The mission to find the aircraft was the first time the Pentagon has allowed a nongovernmental partner to join a search for Vietnam MIAs. Andrew Pietruszka, Project Recover's lead archaeologist, tells the Times that with most sites on land already extensively searched, the focus has turned to the "underwater realm." He says it was a "heavy lift" to get permission from the Vietnamese government to bring advanced underwater robots to the area, but the team hopes there will be many more projects to come. Investigators say earlier missions would have relied on divers or "rudimentary" sonar, but this one used the three six-foot long robots that sent back detailed images of a wide area of seafloor. Avolese's identity was confirmed through DNA analysis and he was buried in Oregon last month, Stars and Stripes reports. (More POW/MIA stories.)

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