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July 22, 2013

N. Korea Flooding Hampers Search for Downed US Pilot

by Steve Herman

VOA correspondent Steve Herman is in North Korea and has been able to make a rare journey out from the capital Pyongyong, where he's had a first-hand glimpse at some of the damage in the country caused by overflowing rivers and other flooding.  He reports from Hyangsan, where recent heavy rainfall has led to the discovery of some human remains that seem to date back to the Korean War.

North Korean military officers have informed VOA News that the partial remains of what appear to be several U.S. soldiers from the Korean War were discovered after severe flooding around July 10.

Villagers are said to have spotted several pairs of American military shoes that led to the human bones at Ryongyeon-ri, Kujang County, in North Pyongan province.  Travel from the capital Pyongyang to the area has been restricted because the main and alternate highways have been partly destroyed.

Travelers can see an approximately 50-meter section of one direction of the primary road fully destroyed, the pavement having crumpled away and fallen dozens of meters.  At another point, part of the pavement on a bridge has buckled.

​​Among those traveling on the hazardous road on Monday evening was American, Thomas Hudner, 88, from Concord, Massachusetts.  Hudner is back in North Korea for the first time in 63 years.  He crashed landed his Navy plane on a slope in the Chosin Reservoir in December 1950, in an unsuccessful attempt to save his wingman Jesse Brown who had crash landed his Corsair F4U jet after apparently being hit by ground fire during a fierce Korean War battle.

Hudner hopes to return to the site to try to find Brown's body, but the current flooding in the country is likely to prevent him from reaching the site.  Hudner is on a private mission to North Korea.  U.S. military search and recovery teams have not entered the country in seven years.  Since then, tensions between Pyongyang and Washington have increased.

In March of this year, North Korea's army severed the hotline with the U.S. military at Panmunjom.  North Korea's army says it informed its American counterparts in 2009 at the truce village that several sets of remains of U.S. servicemen from the war in the early 1950s had been found, but there was no response from U.S. military officials.