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Missing Vietnam War airman's remains identified

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Remains of Air Force Capt. Darrell J. Spinler will be buried with full military honors
  • His plane crashed during a mission over the Xekong River in Laos in 1967
  • A POW/MIA accounting team found the remains during a full excavation last year
  • Years earlier, based on available evidence, his remains were deemed unrecoverable

(CNN) -- The remains of a U.S. Air Force pilot listed as missing in action since his plane crashed in Laos in 1967 have been identified, and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors, the Defense Department's POW/Missing Personnel Office said Tuesday.

On June 21, 1967, Capt. Darrell J. Spinler was piloting an A-1E Skyraider -- a propeller-driven, single-seat aircraft -- attacking enemy targets along the Xekong River in Laos when villagers reported hearing an explosion before his aircraft crashed. The pilot of another A-1E remained in the area for more than two hours but saw no sign of Spinler.

In 1993, villagers who witnessed the crash told a joint U.S.-Laotian team led by Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) that Spinler's body was on the river bank after the crash, but that it likely washed away during the ensuing rainy season.

The team surveyed the location and found wreckage consistent with Spinler's aircraft.

In 1995, the U.S. government evaluated Spinler's case and determined his remains to be unrecoverable based on witness statements and available evidence. Teams working in the area revisited the location in 1999 and 2003 and confirmed Spinler's remains had likely been carried away by the Xekong River.

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Last year, however, JPAC conducted a full excavation of the location and recovered aircraft wreckage, human remains, crew-related equipment and personal effects.

Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the POW/MIA team used dental X-rays in the identification of Spinler's remains.

Spinler, of Browns Valley, Minnesota, will be buried on June 18 near his hometown.

The number of service members still missing from the Vietnam War is now 1,689.