Paving the way for future recovery operations in Myanmar

By Staff Sgt. Roy Woo

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A Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) investigation team conducted witness interviews and crash site surveys at several different villages and locations throughout Chin State, a mountainous region in western Myanmar, May 3 - 29, 2016. The team deployed in an effort to investigate, locate and possibly recover seven United States Army Air Forces personnel who were lost during World War II.

Comprised of nine team members, the team included subject matter experts such as a forensic anthropologist, analyst, explosive ordnance disposal technician, paramedic, communications expert and a mountaineer. The team was the first sent to Myanmar since April 2014, continuing DPAA’s diligent effort to account for missing Americans from past wars for the fullest possible accounting to their families and the nation.

The information received from witnesses helped the team confirm and correlate the missing airplanes to possible crash sites. Upon confirmation, the team braved austere conditions, facing slopes as steep as 50 degrees, in order to search for aircraft wreckage, possible life support equipment and the possible resting place of the service members.

“The mission targeted aircraft crash sites located in the Chin Hills region of Myanmar,” said Dane Magoon, DPAA forensic anthropologist. “And while these may be foothills compared to the Himalayas we were still conducting survey work at elevations well over 7,000 feet above sea level. We did a lot of hiking, and not much of the ground we covered was flat.”

In total, the team conducted five site surveys, which led to the discovery of aircraft wreckage and possible life support equipment. These findings helped in correlating the aircraft crash sites and missing airplanes, which will greatly assist in future recovery operations.

“During this mission we conducted archaeological surveys of five aircraft crash sites that had never been visited by DPAA personnel,” said Magoon. “The effort was very successful, with a great team and excellent support from local civilians and host nation officials. Four of the five crash sites appear to represent U.S. aircraft associated with known loss incidents, which is exactly what we’re looking for. While one site appears to represent a resolved loss incident the other three do not, which is why our survey activities are so important for accurately identifying and evaluating solid targets to pursue with future recovery efforts.”

The attitude of the team was best expressed by Sgt. 1st Class Roderico Balagtas, DPAA analyst. “The witnesses were very helpful to our investigation. This being my first mission, I was nervous because I did not want to fail. Experiencing how difficult the mission was, I realized I must put my best effort into bringing home our missing persons to their families.”


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