Army Central Identification Lab team members hiked along Judd Trail in Nuuanu yesterday, training for their mission in Tibet. From left, Capt. Daniel Rouse led Cpl. Ricardo Morales, Staff Sgt. Thomas Woods and Sgt. 1st Class Sean Bandele.

Search for remains
at Himalayan WWII
crash locations planned

A 14-member Army team
will explore 2 air wreck sites
in Tibet's rugged mountains

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

Scaling the Himalayan Mountains is treacherous enough.

For a search and recovery team from the Army's Central Identification Laboratory, that climb is only part of a two-month mission that begins next month.

A 14-member team is scheduled to leave Aug. 9 for eastern Tibet, where excavation and recovery efforts are set at two World War II aircraft crash sites in the Himalayas, one at 15,500 feet, the other at 16,200 feet.

Members of the team from the Central Identification Laboratory, known as CILHI, at Hickam Air Force Base team have been training for the mission since late May, primarily in Hawaii.

"We've gone through some briefings on the medical concerns at high altitude," Capt. Daniel Rouse said yesterday. "But it's a lot different than any other mission we've done."

CILHI, which works with the Army's Joint Task Force-Full Accounting operations, searches for, recovers and identifies personnel who are unaccounted for from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War and the Vietnam War. The Joint Task Force focuses only on the Vietnam War.

The team leaving for Tibet will search for remains of four people who were aboard a C-46 transport plane that was reported missing in flight from Kunming, China, to its home base at Sookerating, India, in March 1944. It was believed to have run out of fuel before crashing into a ravine about halfway up the mountain. The other, higher crash site also involved a C-46 aircraft, although it is unknown exactly how many people were aboard that flight.

Information about the crash sites was reported to the U.S. government by the Chinese government in 2000, Rouse said. The last recovery mission in Tibet was in 1994.

Rouse, who has been on recovery missions primarily in Southeast Asia, said the physical aspects of the upcoming task will make it different from any other he's been on.

"This one, it's too high for any of the helicopters that are available and the only way you can get in is by car, up to a point, and then maybe by horse and ultimately by foot," he said.

The altitude and weather at 15,000-plus feet also have been difficult to simulate, particularly in Hawaii.

Altitude training took place on the near 14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island. To simulate the frigid weather conditions, team members trained for about a week in Alaska.

"But that was only at 5,000 feet," said Staff Sgt. Thomas C. Woods. "So the only time we've been above 12,000 feet was at Mauna Kea."

Training includes 12-mile hikes with 60-pound rucksacks, regular gym workouts and mountaineering exercises such as rappelling and ascending crevasses.

"It's going to be very interesting to see how we're going to handle it at 16,000 when we get there," Woods said.

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