- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002


The Pentagon is preparing to send a search team to northeastern China in hopes of recovering the remains of two American pilots believed to have been buried 50 years ago where their unmarked plane crash-landed during a failed spy mission for the CIA.

The search is an important milestone in the U.S. government's push to win China's cooperation in accounting for Americans lost not only in the Cold War but also the Korean War and World War II. It is the first time China has permitted a search for remains linked to a Cold War case.

"What we're all hopeful of is that a successful result from this mission will prompt more cooperation from the People's Republic of China in other areas," said Ann Mills Griffiths, executive director of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.

An eight-member search team from the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii is scheduled to leave July 15 and investigate the crash site near the town of Antu in China's Jilin province.

Robert C. Snoddy and Norman A. Schwartz, accompanied by two CIA officers, were about to pick up an anti-communist Chinese spy in the Manchurian foothills when their C-47 was shot down on Nov. 29, 1952. The CIA operatives, John Downey and Richard Fecteau, were captured alive, imprisoned by China for two decades and released only after Washington acknowledged their spy mission.

The U.S. government initially told family members the men went down in the Sea of Japan on a routine flight to Tokyo, maintaining a cover story in order to keep a lid on the CIA's covert actions in China.

China says the charred bodies of Mr. Snoddy and Mr. Schwartz were buried at the snow-covered crash site. It is not certain that five decades later the remains can be found, recovered and identified.

The two were pilots for Civil Air Transport, a CIA proprietary airline that supported clandestine missions in the Far East. They were considered contract employees rather than CIA staff officers, but in December 1998 their names were added to the Book of Honor at CIA headquarters. That marked the government's first public acknowledgment of the men's agency connection.

Mr. Snoddy, of Eugene, Ore., and Mr. Schwartz, of Louisville, Ky., both flew in World War II Mr. Snoddy for the Navy and Mr. Schwartz for the Marine Corps.

"These two boys were excellent pilots," said Bob Rousselot of Okay, Okla., who was Civil Air Transport's chief pilot and its liaison with the CIA. He recalled that Mr. Snoddy and Mr. Schwartz had trained hard for their mission but were "sitting ducks" because the Chinese had been tipped off and laid an ambush.

"We were aware of what could happen" on such missions, "so it was not a big shock," said Eddie Sims of Melbourne, Fla., a former Civil Air Transport pilot who knew Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Snoddy well so well, in fact, that he later named his son Robert Norman Sims after the lost pilots.

Recovery of the pilots' remains would bring to a close one of the more sensitive Cold War-era espionage cases involving China, whose then-fledgling communist government was under covert assault from the CIA at the same time its army was fighting U.S. forces in Korea.

Erik Kirzinger, a nephew of Mr. Schwartz, said his family is gratified that China is permitting the search.

"They recognize this was a humanitarian request that really is boundaryless," he said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide