Defense Dept.: Remains of Utah pilot from Vietnam era identified

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

SALT LAKE CITY -- The remains of an Air Force pilot who went missing in action during the Vietnam War have been identified, the Department of Defense said Tuesday.

The ashes of Air Force Maj. Russell C. Goodman will be scattered in Alaska, his family told Anchorage television station KTUU. The station said the family was currently in Hawaii, where forensic experts identified Goodman from bone fragments.

One of Goodman's daughters, Sue Stein, told the station the family learned about the identification a week after the death of their mother, June Stein, who always hoped for the return of her husband.

"All these years we've wondered: Did he just crash and die and nobody cared? But apparently somebody did care, so that is a good thing," Stein said.

Goodman, who was from Salt Lake City, will be honored this week at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The base is home to the U.S. Air Force Thunderbird demonstration team. When Goodman went missing, he was assigned to the Thunderbirds and was flying with the U.S. Navy on an exchange program.

Goodman's F-4B Phantom took off from the USS Enterprise and was struck by enemy anti-aircraft fire on Feb. 20, 1967. The plane was on a bombing mission against a railroad yard in Thanh Hoa Province in North Vietnam.

Another man in the plane, Navy Lt. Gary L. Thornton, was able to eject at 250 feet above ground. He survived and was held captive until his release in 1973.

Goodman did not escape the plane, and search-and-rescue efforts for him were limited because of heavy anti-aircraft and automatic weapons fire near the crash site, the Defense Department said.

Joint U.S.-Vietnamese teams led by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command conducted two investigations and excavations at the crash site between 1993 and 2008.

The efforts recovered human remains and aircraft debris that matched what the men were flying.

The remains were identified as Goodman's using circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, including mitochondrial DNA that matched two of Goodman's maternal relatives.

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