A British and an Australian national claimed over the weekend that they may have found the remains of photojournalist Sean Flynn, only days before the 40th anniversary of his disappearance while covering the civil war in Cambodia.
The US Embassy said yesterday the men had handed over the “possible human remains” on Friday for further testing by the US Defense Department agency tasked with accounting for military personnel believed missing in action.
Sean Flynn, son of the Australian Hollywood film actor Errol Flynn, and fellow war photographer Dana Stone disappeared on April 6, 1970, after the two men left Phnom Penh and headed by motorcycle toward Vietnamese troops who were operating around National Road 1 inside Cambodian territory. Flynn and Stone were captured and eventually turned over to the Khmer Rouge.
But the details of their deaths and captivity are largely unknown. Their bodies were never found and some have speculated that the men survived until 1974. The enduring mystery surrounding their deaths has led to several books about the fate of the men, and a film company has purchased the rights to the book “Two of the Missing,” which is being developed into a movie.
Keith Rotheram, who owns the Golden Rooster Resort in Preah Sihanouk City, said yesterday that he could not yet give any details on his excavation activities in Kompong Cham province. Asked if he thought he found the remains of Sean Flynn, he said, “possibly.”
Asked if the remains had been collected in a scientific manner, Mr Rotheram said, “of course. How would you otherwise find a Western body in the middle of the jungle?” He then hung up.
Choek Sa, governor of Kompong Cham province’s Memot district, said the men had conducted excavation work in Ponla village, Triek commune, in his district, located on the border with Vietnam, adding that they had received permission from local authorities to conduct their excavation research and had been escorted by local police.
Kompong Cham provincial police chief Nuon Samin said the men had hired local villagers to dig up the possible remains and sift through the sand.
“They paid the local workers to dig in the soil to find the bones,” he said, adding that the men had used a group of about 10 local workers to dig at various sites in Ponla village for about a month.
According to an article published Saturday by the British newspaper The Daily Mail, Mr Rotherham, a Briton, and David MacMillan, a Scottish-born Australian, “hired bomb clearance experts, a bulldozer and teams of local workers to dig at a site where a witness described a tall, blond Westerner matching Sean’s description being executed in 1971.”
US Embassy spokesman John Johnson said by telephone that the two men had visited the embassy on Friday and that the remains “were turned over to JPAC and sent to the US for further testing,” he said, referring to the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command, a Defense Department office responsible for accounting for US service personnel who are unaccounted for.
According to The Daily Mail, the remains found during the dig, which was reportedly partially funded by Flynn’s half-sister Rory, included bone fragments, teeth, clothes and jungle vines used to tie up a prisoner. In the article, Mr MacMillan claimed an unnamed expert had told him, based on photographs of the found teeth, that the teeth showed evidence of mid-20th century dental work.
US MIA officers visiting Cambodia in March 2001 said that without a location on where the bones were retrieved, or other details regarding the circumstances of death and identity of bones, identifying remains was very difficult.
“That’s why we pass word to each of the provinces…don’t dig up the remains. Leave them there,” Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Smith said during an interview.
According to a statistical report from January of the Defense Department’s Prisoner of War/ Missing Personnel Office, 59 Americans, military personnel and civilians, who went missing during the war in Vietnam still remain unaccounted for in Cambodia.