The bodies of three US Army fliers were turned over to US Command authorities on Saturday (16th July) two days after the Chinook transport helicopter they had crewed was shot down five miles inside North Korean territory.
The bodies of three US Army fliers were turned over to US Command authorities on Saturday (16th July) two days after the Chinook transport helicopter they had crewed was shot down five miles inside North Korean territory. The sole survivor of the Chinook crew, Chief Warrant Officer Glenn Schwanke, was also permitted by the North Koreans to cross the border and rejoin the American forces on the other side.
The handover took place at the Korean truce village of Panmunjon only a few hours after north Korean and American delegations had met there in an atmosphere of unusual co-operation. The senior North Korean negotiator, Major-General Han Ju-kyong said that there would be no conditions attached to the handover since the Americans had said that the intrusion into North Korean airspace was unintentional. He said that it was the North Korean intention to settle the matter "leniently" so that a complicated situation might not arise. General Han and the American chief negotiator, Rear-Admiral Warren Hamm, then retired, leaving the details to be settled by their staffs.
The quick handover contrasts strongly with earlier incidents in which weeks of negotiation were required before the North Koreans consented to return the bodies of dead Americans. The most recent of such incidents was last August when Korean soldiers beat two Americans to death with axe-handles after they had had tried to chop down a tree in a zone common to North Korea and the US forces.
In Washington, President Carter had said that he wished to avoid a confrontation over the incident, and had been quick to admit that the fliers had made a mistake in flying into North Korean territory. Observers say that the relatively mild North Korean reaction may be due to a desire not to change President Carter's mind about withdrawing US troops from South Korea over the next five years.
But the North Koreans have refused to return the wreckage of the Chinook helicopter; and shortly after he had been told of the release of Warrant Officer Schwanke and the bodies of his three dead comrades President Carter condemned what he called an "excessive reaction" by North Korea to what he described as an "unarmed and inadvertent intrusion".