WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is preparing to send a search team to northeastern China in hopes of recovering the remains of two American pilots believed to have been buried 50 years ago where their unmarked plane crash-landed during a failed spy mission for the CIA.
The search is an important milestone in the U.S. government's push to win China's cooperation in accounting for Americans lost not only in the Cold War but also the Korean War and World War II. It is the first time China has permitted a search for remains linked to a Cold War case.
"What we're all hopeful of is that a successful result from this mission will prompt more cooperation from the People's Republic of China in other areas," said Ann Mills Griffiths, executive director of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
An eight-member search team from the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii is scheduled to leave July 15 and investigate the crash site near the town of Antu in China's Jilin province.
CIA officers captured
Robert C. Snoddy and Norman A. Schwartz, accompanied by two CIA officers, were about to pick up an anti-communist Chinese spy in the Manchurian foothills when their C-47 was shot down on Nov. 29, 1952. The CIA operatives, John Downey and Richard Fecteau, were captured alive, imprisoned by China for two decades and released only after Washington acknowledged their spy mission.
The U.S. government initially told family members the men went down in the Sea of Japan on a routine flight to Tokyo, maintaining a cover story in order to keep a lid on the CIA's covert actions in China.
China says the charred bodies of Snoddy and Schwartz were buried at the snow-covered crash site. It is not certain that, five decades later, the remains can be found, recovered and identified.