Remains of U.S. Air Force pilot missing from Vietnam War plane crash found in Laos

By BNO News

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — The remains of a U.S. Air Force pilot who went missing in Laos during the Vietnam War in 1970 has been identified and returned to his family, the U.S. Department of Defense announced on Friday.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Richard G. Elzinga of Shedd, Oregon, went missing on March 26, 1970, when he and his co-pilot were flying a small Cessna O-1 Bird Dog aircraft on a familiarization flight over Laos. Search and rescue missions were quickly launched.

Just fifteen minutes after the last radio contact with Elzinga’s plane, a communication and visual search showed no sign of the men or their aircraft. Intensive search and rescue missions continued for two days with no results.

More than two decades later, in 1994, joint U.S.-Laos teams led by the U.S. Joint Prisoners of War (POW), Missing in Action (MIA) Accounting Command began analyzing leads, interviewing villagers, and surveyed possible crash site locations. The search continued until 2009 when, during several joint field surveys, teams recovered human remains, aircraft wreckage, and crew-related equipment.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the U.S. Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory also used mitochondrial DNA — which matched that of his aunt and cousin — in the identification of Elzinga’s remains. It was not announced where the remains were found.

The process of identification for Elzinga’s remains was recently completed, after which his family was informed. The pilot’s remains have since been returned to his family and Elzinga will be buried on Friday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Since late 1973, the remains of more than 930 Americans killed in the Vietnam War have been accounted-for and returned to their families. With the accounting of Elzinga, 1,686 Americans – including 32 civilians – still remain missing from the conflict.

On June 17, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that the remains of Air Force 1st Lt. David A. Thorpe of Seneca Falls, New York had been identified. Thorpe went missing in October 1966 when a C-130E aircraft carrying him and four other men went missing in South Vietnam.

And in June 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that the remains of nine U.S. service members had been accounted-for and returned to their families. The nine service members went missing on May 22, 1968 when their C-130A Hercules aircraft crashed in the northern Salavan Province of Laos.

The Vietnam War between November 1955 and April 1975 left at least 315,000 people killed and nearly 1.5 million others injured. It took place in South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

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