July 26, 2005

Remains of pilots returning from Vietnam

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The remains of two U.S. Air Force officers from Texas, missing for 40 years since their bomber crashed in Laos during the Vietnam War, have been found and are being returned to their families for burial, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

Col. James Lewis of Marshall, Texas, and Maj. Arthur Baker of San Antonio were aboard one of four B-57B Canberra bombers on April 7, 1965, when the plane went down in cloudy weather during a mission over Xiangkhoang Province, Laos.

Lewis, the pilot, radioed that the plane was departing the target area, but there was no further radio or visual contact. Rescue missions at the time failed to find any wreckage. The cause of the crash was unknown, although enemy fire and poor weather were believed to have contributed.

In July 1997, a joint U.S.-Lao People's Democratic Republic team interviewed witnesses, two of whom led the team to the crash site. Four subsequent excavations from 2003 to 2004 yielded human remains and artifacts and the remains were later identified as Lewis and Baker by forensic experts in Hawaii.

Baker will be buried in Longview, Texas, on July 29 and Lewis in Marshall on Aug. 13.

A total of 1,827 U.S. servicemen remain missing in Southeast Asia since the war. Another 756 have been found and identified.