At a ceremony in the Lao capital, Vientiane, the remains of four Westerners killed during the Vietnam War were handed over to U.S. officials to be transported to Hawaii for final identification. The remains of the four people, believed to be three Americans and one Australian, were transferred to American custody Monday in an early morning ceremony at the Vientiane international airport.
Lao Vice Foreign Minister Phongsavath Boupha, and U.S. and Australian diplomats attended the ceremony.
Two sets of remains are thought to be those of United States soldiers. The other sets are believed to be those of Charles Dean, an American, and his Australian friend, Neil Sharman. They were both 24 years old when they were captured by Communist Pathet Lao forces in September 1974.
Both were civilians and had been traveling around the world when captured in the final months of the war in Indochina.
An honor guard loaded the caskets onto a U.S. Air Force transport plane bound for Hawaii, where the remains will undergo tests to confirm their identities.
The remains were recovered in early November in a rice field by a team of experts from Laos and the United States military. The team searches for the bodies of soldiers listed as prisoners of war or missing in action from the Vietnam War.
Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Strain leads the U.S. team members.
"The site was approximately three acres and the anthropologist from the joint POW-MIA command methodically worked through those three acres until they had discovery," he said. "During this joint field activity we processed four sets of remains."
Howard Dean, a Democratic Party candidate for the U.S. presidency, has said that personal items found at the site convince him his younger brother's body has been located.
A tip from area villagers led the recovery team to the site where the remains were found.
U.S.-sponsored recovery teams began operating in Laos in the late 1980s and have found the remains of more than 180 Americans, most of them military men who disappeared during the war in the 1960s and early '70s.
Almost 390 Americans are still unaccounted for in Laos. Fighting in the tiny country was dubbed "the secret war" as both the United States and North Vietnam violated international agreements on Laos' neutrality.