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Monday, 8 July, 2002, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Search for 'spy' pilots in China
Norman A. Schwartz, left, and an unidentified man, talk in this undated Pentagon photo (AP)
Schwartz (l) was a pilot for a clandestine airline

The US Pentagon is sending a team to north-eastern China to investigate the possibility of recovering the remains of two pilots who died during a spy mission 50 years ago.

An eight-member search team from the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii is scheduled to leave on 15 July for the crash site near the town of Antu in China's Jilin province.

China says that the bodies of the pilots - Robert Snoddy and Norman Schwartz - were buried where their C-47 crash-landed on 29 November 1952.

It is the first time China has permitted a search for remains linked to a Cold War case.

Dig considered

The initial search team will investigate whether there is enough evidence at the crash site to merit a full excavation, Larry Greer from the US Defence Department's Prisoner of War and Missing in Action (POW/MIA) office told BBC News Online.

Robert Snoddy
Snoddy: Shot down over China in 1952

He said he was pleased that - during the numerous discussions with China over the US MIA dating from World War II, the Vietnam War and the Cold War - Beijing had offered to accommodate an inquiry into this particular case.

"What we're all hopeful of is that a successful result from this mission will prompt more cooperation from the People's Republic of China in other areas," said Ann Mills Griffiths, executive director of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.

Snoddy and Schwartz were pilots for Civil Air Transport, a CIA proprietary airline that supported clandestine missions in the Far East.

Accompanied by two CIA officers, they were shot down as they were preparing to pick up an anti-Communist Chinese spy in the Manchurian foothills.

The CIA officers, John Downey and Richard Fecteau, survived, and were taken prisoner for two decades - they were only released after Washington acknowledged their spy mission.

Cover story

The families of the pilots were originally told that they crashed into the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, on a routine flight to Tokyo, in order to keep secret the CIA's covert actions in China at the time.

Erik Kirzinger, a nephew of Schwartz, said his family is glad that China is allowing the search.

"They recognise this was a humanitarian request that really is boundary-less."

See also:

16 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
11 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
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