Remains of U.S. Pilot Recovered offshore Vietnam
Scripps Oceanography’s Project Recover uses advanced underwater technology to aid in recovery
- Lauren Fimbres Wood
- Lauren Fimbres Wood
U.S. Air Force Maj. Paul A. Avolese, 35, killed during the Vietnam War, was officially accounted for by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) on Sept. 21, 2020. The recovery and identification of Maj. Avolese’s remains were a direct result of a Project Recover and DPAA partner initiative in Vietnam. This was DPAA’s first non-governmental partnership allowed to conduct underwater searches for unaccounted-for sites in Vietnamese waters.
Project Recover is a public-private partnership, including scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, that uses 21st-century science and technology and archival and historical research to find the final underwater resting places of Americans missing in action.
On July 7, 1967, a B-52D Stratofortress (tail number 56-627, call sign "Kilo Red 2") with seven crew members took off from Guam as one of three aircraft on a bombing mission against enemy targets east of Bien Hoa, South Vietnam. When the flight was over the South China Sea, "Kilo Red 2" collided with one of the other B-52 aircraft in the flight (call sign “Kilo Red 1”) as they attempted to change position as directed by ground radar. The collision resulted in a giant fireball followed by the breakup of both aircraft. No parachutes were observed, but several beeper signals were received. Search and recovery efforts conducted from July 7-10, 1967 involved 21 helicopters, 42 fixed wing aircraft and five US Navy and US Coast Guard surface vessels. As a result seven survivors, four from "Kilo Red 2" and three from “Kilo Red 1” were rescued. The remaining three crew members of “Kilo Red 2”, including Avolese, were lost during the incident and remained unaccounted for.
Major Paul Andrew Avolese entered the U.S. Air Force from New York and served in the 2nd Bombardment Squadron. He was the radar navigator aboard "Kilo Red 2" and could not be located following the crash. Today, Major Avolese is memorialized on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
In 2020 Project Recover, represented by a team from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, was asked by DPAA to conduct an underwater survey of an area offshore Vietnam to locate the wreckage of the two B-52D aircraft. Along with previous successes in locating underwater MIA sites as part of Project Recover, the Scripps team has a long history of conducting scientific research in Vietnam.
Scripps researchers led by Eric Terrill and Andrew Pietruszka, along with members of DPAA and the Vietnamese Office For Seeking Missing Persons, deployed modern oceanographic instruments in an attempt to relocate and document the aircraft. The team used a fleet of REMUS 100 autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) equipped with sidescan sonar and magnetometer to survey approximately eight square miles of the seafloor.
“For decades an operation like this was simply not feasible given the state of underwater technologies,” said Bob Hess, a development engineer at Scripps who participated in this and several previous undersea Project Recover expeditions. “By harnessing recent advances in these technologies, many of these sites throughout the world are becoming accessible for the first time. Being able to operate in such an isolated environment and not only locate the sites, but to be able to identify individual pieces of the wreckage is an amazing feat of man and technology. It is both exciting and humbling to be given the opportunity to locate these sites and bring closure to the friends and families of the fallen.”
The survey resulted in the discovery of several targets that were investigated by SCUBA divers. The team identified several targets as consistent with the wreckage of a B-52D aircraft. The remains of Maj. Avolese were discovered at one of these sites and recovered by the scientific team.
Andrew Pietruszka, an underwater archaeologist at Scripps Oceanography and lead archaeologist for Project Recover described the experience.
“It was an honor to participate in the first ever partner survey for underwater MIA sites in Vietnam,” said Pietruszka. “To successfully locate the site and also recover the remains of Maj. Avolese was incredible. It’s a testament to what can be accomplished with public private partnerships.”
The remains were eventually transferred to DPAA in Hawaii where they were identified, before being returned to the next of kin for burial with full military honors.
“The success of this program is a testimony to the cooperation between the U.S. and Vietnamese governments and are commended for their willingness to partner with our organization to apply emerging technologies and scientific methods to finding and returning lost servicemen,” said Terrill, an oceanographer at Scripps and co-founder of Project Recover.
ABOUT PROJECT RECOVER
In 2014, a partnership titled Project Recover was established with researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego, University of Delaware, and BentProp Project. After receiving financial support from the Friedkin Foundation, Project Recover went global, expanding MIA search operations into 20 countries. In 2018, The BentProp Project name was retired and the 501c3 name became Project Recover, Inc.
The work blends historical data from many different sources to optimize underwater search areas with scanning sonars, high definition and thermal cameras, advanced diving, and unmanned aerial and underwater robotic technologies. These new methods are now being applied globally where servicemen are still missing.
Information on finds by Project Recover are then transmitted to the DPAA for identification, family notification and ultimately repatriation. Project Recover has an expanding footprint, with cases developing for global search and discovery.
For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil, find us on social media at www.facebook.com/dodpaa or call (703) 699-1420/1193.
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