Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Army divers search river for Korean War remains
By Jimmy Norris, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Thursday, May 22, 2008

SEOUL — U.S. Army divers hit the muddy waters of the Han River on Tuesday to search for the remains of U.S. troops lost during the Korean War.

Officials said it is the first underwater recovery mission attempted in South Korea by the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command, based out of Hawaii.

The divers spent the morning about three miles north of the Hangang rail bridge, searching for the remains of an F7F Tigercat, a propeller-driven fighter plane that crashed in the river during the war.

Searching by feel due to poor visibility, the divers found nothing but boat parts, construction debris and slabs of concrete.

"We never know what we’re going to find or not find," said Richard Wills, an anthropologist working with the command. "But what we can do is exclude the area" if nothing of value is discovered.

Tuesday’s sites were among 15 to 20 "good targets" Wills said had been discovered using side-scan sonar technology.

On Monday, divers found a piece of cloth that was initially thought to be from a pilot’s survival equipment. An examination by the team’s air crew life support technician showed it to be a normal scrap of burlap.

The searchers say they’re used to that happening.

"It doesn’t get frustrating as long as we keep up the effort," Underwater Investigation Team leader Sgt. 1st Class Willie Woods said.

The underwater team — one of three JPAC teams working now in South Korea — will be on the Han through May 30.

They will focus on sites identified from eyewitness accounts pulled from historical records.

"Every U.S. loss in Korea was given a case number and a file," Wills said. "Even if it’s a thin file."

Two of the four river locations are called primary sites, with the most complete information, he said. Secondary sites will be checked if time permits.

Wills said recent equipment and staffing additions will allow the command to conduct more than the usual one or two underwater missions per year.

Ellie