Logo of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, headquartered in Hawaii.

Logo of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, headquartered in Hawaii. (JPAC)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan - The remains of six airmen who died during a crash in Laos during the Vietnam War have been identified and returned to their families for burial together, the U.S. Department of Defense said.

Air Force Col. Joseph Christiano of Rochester, N.Y.; Col. Derrell Jeffords of Florence, S.C.; Lt. Col. Dennis Eilers of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Chief Master Sgt. William Colwell of Glen Cove, N.Y.; Chief Master Sgt. Arden Hassenger of Lebanon, Ore.; and Chief Master Sgt. Larry Thornton of Idaho Falls, Idaho, will be buried with full military honors Monday at Arlington National Cemetery, a Defense Department statement said Thursday.

During a Dec. 24, 1965, combat strike mission in southern Laos, the men sent a "mayday" signal before all contact was lost with their AC-47D aircraft, nicknamed "Spooky," the statement said. Two days of search efforts were fruitless.

In 1995, a joint U.S.-Laos team investigated a crash site in Savannakhet Province, the statement said. Villagers recalled seeing a two-propeller aircraft crash in December 1965, and said a farmer found aircraft wreckage in a nearby field. The team recovered small pieces of aircraft wreckage and recommended further investigation.

From 1999 to 2001, joint investigation and recovery teams from the two countries revisited the site four times, interviewing residents and recovering military equipment as they began to excavate the site. No human remains were recovered, so the work was suspended pending additional investigation.

Another joint team dug at the site in 2010, recovering human remains, personal items and military equipment. Three additional excavations last year produced additional human remains and evidence.

Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command scientists used dental records and circumstantial evidence in the identification process, the release said. The six airmen are to be buried together in a single casket.

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