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China Returns Suspected US WWII Remains - 2002-09-28

China has officially handed to the United States what it believes are the remains of American fliers lost in a remote Tibet location during World War II. The plane apparently crashed hauling war supplies to Chinese forces fighting Japanese invaders.

The remains were turned over to American officials at a ceremony in Tibet on Friday.

China's official news agency, Xinhua, says the plane was lost back in 1945, and all that's left of the four-man crew are bone fragments and artifacts. Scientists at a U.S. laboratory in Hawaii will use special techniques to see whom these weather-beaten bones belong to.

The crash site was high in the mountains of Tibet, along the air route taken to move hundreds of thousands of tons of ammunition and supplies from India to far western China during World War II.

Hundreds of U.S. planes crashed and nearly 1,600 American airmen died hauling these critical supplies over some of the world's highest mountains. Pilots called the tough route "The Hump."

This particular crash site is around 5,000 meters above sea level, and the U.S. recovery team had to undergo special training to cope with the high altitude and tough terrain.

The area is so remote that the wreckage lay undiscovered for decades, until two hunters stumbled across it a couple of years ago.

Officials say it took them a month to locate and remove the remains. They are aware of a second possible crash site in the same area of Tibet, but ran out of time before they could search it closely.

This is the fourth plane crash site investigated by China and the United States in Tibet in recent years. Such cooperation helps improve the sometimes difficult relations between Washington and Beijing, and both nations are aiming for smooth relations right now as they prepare for next month's scheduled summit meeting in the U.S., between President Bush and China's President, Jiang Zemin.