US officials mourn Vietnamese helicopter crash victims

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Officials and relatives paid grief–stricken final farewells today to eight Vietnamese killed in the crash of a helicopter carrying a team searching for Americans still missing from the Vietnam War.

Officials and relatives paid grief–stricken final farewells today to eight Vietnamese killed in the crash of a helicopter carrying a team searching for Americans still missing from the Vietnam War.

The eight military officers were among nine Vietnamese and seven Americans who died in the crash on Saturday while preparing for excavations in the search for 1,992 Americans still listed as missing in action.

"It's with great sorrow that I'm here," US Ambassador Pete Peterson told the memorial service. "We deeply share the loss of our Vietnamese friends who perished, and feel their loss as deeply as we feel our own."

Eight flag–draped coffins were laid in a row in a giant hall at a military airport on the outskirts of Hanoi that was frequently bombed by American planes during the war.

Dressed in white smocks with traditional mourning bands tied around their heads, weeping family members and friends filed through the hall as wails of grief punctuated the incense–filled room.

A separate memorial service was to be held later today for Nguyen Thanh Ha, deputy director of Vietnam's MIA search group, known as the Vietnamese Office for Seeking Missing Persons.

The Russian–made MI–17 helicopter crashed Saturday into a fog–covered mountainside in central Quang Binh province, just outside the village of Thanh Trach, about 250 miles south of Hanoi.

The cause of the crash has still not been determined.

The team had cancelled a stop in Dong Hoi, the provincial capital, because of bad weather, a local official said. The helicopter was on its way instead to Hue, Vietnam's ancient capital, when it smashed into the mountain.

The bodies of the seven Americans are to be flown to Hawaii later in the week.

Among the Americans killed was Lt Col George D "Marty" Martin III, 40, of Hopkins, SC, who was to take over command of the Hanoi detachment of the Hawaii–based MIA task force in July.

The crash also killed the unit's current commander, Army Lt Col Rennie Cory Jr, 43, of Fayetteville, NC.

Saturday's fatalities were the task force's first in nine years of operation.

The United States spends up to dlrs 6 million each year conducting MIA searches.

Comments