Alaska mountaineering instructors to seek human remains in Laos

Posted: Wednesday, January 03, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Two Northern Warfare Training Center mountaineering instructors from Fort Wainwright will be facing a big challenge on a distant mountain.

Instructors Chris Hereford and Staff Sgt. Kirk Dennison were to leave Tuesday for the jungles of Laos to help recover the remains from a Navy plane that crashed during the Vietnam War.

The instructors are part of a 12-person team that will be flown to 4,500-foot Phou Louan Mountain in central Laos to determine whether the remains of the missing men can be recovered, said Lt. Col. Franklin Childress, a spokesman for the Joint Task Force Full Accountability in Hawaii.

The group investigates and tries to retrieve the remains of Americans in Southeast Asia who were casualties of the Vietnam War.

Hereford and Dennison are the top-qualified climbing instructors at the training center. They were needed for this job because the crash site is spread over the face of a 600-foot vertical cliff.

''It's an incredibly dangerous site,'' Childress said.

Helicopters carrying the crew will have to land on a plateau often swept by high winds, covered by clouds and made slick by rain. Then, Hereford and Dennison plan to set line anchors using trees and rappel down the cliff.

''The particular logistics of the cliff means being on ropes the whole time, which slows the process down considerably,'' Hereford told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Hereford and Dennison will be responsible for installing new anchors as the work site moves, inspecting equipment and training locals.

This is the third such mission for Hereford, who was involved in two missions involving the remains of World War II-era soldiers in China. Dennison was involved in one.

The crash site is believed to hold the remains of the nine-member crew from a Navy plane conducting electronic surveillance along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Childress said.

They are among the 420 Americans still listed as missing in Laos. Their mission was classified until about two years ago, Childress said.

The site was closed in 1996 after it was declared too risky to inspect. In June, family members of two of the men believed missing in the crash asked the task force to reconsider.

This mission will determine if recovery of any remains is possible.

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