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Possible Discovery of 50-Year-Old US Military Plane Crash Site in China - 2002-07-29

Members of an American search team believe they have located the crash site of a U.S. military plane shot down in northeastern China 50 years ago. But there is no trace of the two American pilots killed in the crash during the Korean War.

The C-47 aircraft was trying to pick up an anti-Communist Chinese spy in China's northeastern province, Jilin, when it was shot down in 1952. The plane's two pilots, Robert Snoddy and Norman Schwartz, were killed. Two CIA officers were captured and imprisoned for 20 years in Beijing.

On Monday, a search team from the U.S. Army spoke to reporters in Beijing about its investigation in Jilin Province last week. Franklin Damann, the team anthropologist, said that with the help of metal detectors, the group discovered airplane debris at a site in Antu County. "In identifying this small place, this 20 by 30 meter area, we searched about a 100 square meter area as well and we've got no other hits anywhere in the area," he said. "So to me, I think that we have identified the area where the aircraft crashed."

Mr. Damann said last week's search relied heavily on the memory of a 78-year-old Chinese farmer living nearby, the sole surviving witness of the crash. The farmer told the eight-member team that he and several others buried the bodies of the pilots six hours after the crash. "It was November, the ground was frozen, so they were not buried too deep and they were placed in a crater created by the aircraft," he said.

But Mr. Damann said investigators from the U.S. Army's Central Identification unit in Hawaii found no trace of the bodies or a burial site.

The crash took place when China and the United States fought on opposite sides of the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953. Beijing says it granted permission for the U.S. Defense Department to conduct the search to promote friendship between China and the United States.

The Pentagon has also asked China for more information about other Americans captured by Chinese troops during the Korean War, World War II and other conflicts.