Home' Air Force News : September 17th 2009 Contents 14
Operation Magpies R
By Andrew Stackpool
The first discovery was
huge, WGCDR Michael
Warby says. "There were
smiles and relief all
WGCDR Warby was the Officer
in Charge of Operation Magpies
Return, the operation to recover
the remains of FLGOFF Michael
Herbert and PLTOFF Robert Carver
in the rugged, remote and inhospi-
table Vietnamese jungle.
They arrived in the area on July
12 and it took five days of hard and
often frustrating work to make the
WGCDR Warby says the discov-
ery of the first remains, which were
later identified as those of PLTOFF
Carver, reinvigorated the search.
The 11-person Air Force team
were not the only jubilant ones
either. The team was assisted by
representatives from the Vietnamese
Missing in Action (MIA) organisa-
tion, security personnel and local
villagers who helped with the work
and acted as porters -- and WGCDR
Warby said that night the MIA
officers brought some rice wine to
celebrate the discovery.
"It meant a lot to them. They
had put a lot of effort into helping
us, from getting approval from the
Vietnamese prime minister, through
to arranging a lot of the support and
setting up the camp."
The search bore more fruit on
July 19 when more remains were
discovered, which were later con-
firmed as those of FLGOFF Herbert.
Just reaching the site was a trial.
First, the team had to drive about
28km from the village of Thanh
My to a 'development' road (under
construction), then a further 7km to
The team then had to descend a
steep embankment with all their gear
and cross the river by canoe before
climbing more than a kilometre up
a 50-degree slippery clay and rock
incline to the crash site.
The track followed the course of
two waterfalls, which while quite
scenic, made for a difficult ascent.
The team's campsite was a fur-
ther 200 metres up the steep hillside.
The team established an archaeo-
logical search grid around the impact
Assisted by local Vietnamese, the
team then began excavations. The
search grid became every important
in order to show accurately where
objects were found and thus trying to
determine the attitude of the aircraft
at impact. WGCDR Warby says that
a range of environmental conditions
made excavation difficult.
"It was remote and all stores
including water had to be carried in.
Rain made the site slippery and
leeches were prevalent in the area as
well. "Communications were unreli-
able and so, there was a whole lot
that could have gone wrong."
The imminent onset of the wet
season meant the team worked in rain
for all but the last three days and this
made the steep terrain prone to land
slips. The Vietnamese built a bamboo
safety fence above the crater but still
experienced two small slides.
"Our excavation covered an area
of approximately four metres by five
metres to a depth of three metres,
so a land slip with people working
in the crater could have had serious
A significant amount of rain
could also have made it difficult for
the team to be extracted as there was
a possibility of the river rising and
flooding. For that reason, a transit
and stores camp was established on
the crash site side of the river.
Another significant issue to
overcome was that due to the clay
nature of the soil and the amount of
moisture it contained, dry sieving
was not possible. Instead, a wet siev-
ing method had to be developed. A
small creek, about 60 metres below
the crash site was dammed and water
for sieving was carried to the crash
site by the porters. This water was
then used to wet sieve the soil. Two
sieving stations were established,
where the clay soil was initially bro-
ken up and washed as much as pos-
sible, before being transferred for its
initial and final sieving. Specialists
then examined the contents for any
artefacts and remains.
The team departed the area on
July 21 after "a full accounting
of Herbert and Carver had been
The remains were transferred
by road to Hanoi, where Dr Marc
Oxenham from the Australian
National University examined them
and was able to assign identity to
His report, together with the
Principal Investigator's report was
presented to the Vietnamese Institute
of Forensic Medicine, where
Professor Nguyen Trong Toan con-
firmed Dr Oxenham's findings and
recommended that the remains be
repatriated to Australia.
Before departing the crash
site, prayers were said and three
Australian eucalypts were planted
at the site. "In accordance with
Buddhist traditions, incense was lit
and fresh food left at the site to sus-
tain FLGOFF Herbert and PLTOFF
Carver in the afterlife."
In accordance with Buddhist traditions,
incense was lit and fresh food left at the site
to sustain FLGOFF Herbert and PLTOFF Carver
in the afterlife.
-- WGCDR Michael Warby
LOST IN THE JUNGLE SINCE NOVEMBER
1970: Looking out from the crash site of
Canberra Bomber A84-231.
Photos: LACW Shannon Urie
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