Remains Not Those of Sean Flynn, US Agency Says

DNA tests conclusively show that human remains unearthed by amateur diggers in March during a search for the grave of Sean Flynn are not those of the missing war photographer, who disappeared covering the Cambodian con­flict in 1970, a US military officer said yesterday.

Instead, remains found in the much-criticized excavation appear to belong to a Cambodian or someone from the region. It was unclear yesterday where these remains might now be sent or whether testing will continue.

“The remains from the dig we did in Cambodia earlier this year are not Sean Flynn—they appear to be indigenous,” US Air Force Lieu­tenant-Colonel Wayne Perry, public affairs director of the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Com­mand, wrote in an e-mail yesterday. JPAC is the US agency tasked with finding Americans missing in past conflicts.

Lt Col Perry said JPAC tested bone fragments from both March’s amateur excavation and JPAC’s re-excavation of the site in April.

“DNA extracted from the recovered remains was sampled against the DNA we had on file from the Flynn family and there was no match,” he wrote.

Lt Col Perry did not immediately reply to a query on the future of the re­mains. US Embassy spokesman John Johnson has referred all questions to JPAC.

Flynn disappeared with colleague Dana Stone 40 years ago on April 6 after the pair were captured by Vietnamese troops in Svay Ri­eng province and handed over to the Khmer Rouge.

Self-styled adventurers Dave MacMillan and Keith Rotheram said in March they had found re­mains that were potentially those of the photojournalist, who was the son of Hollywood film actor Errol Flynn, in a Kompong Cham prov­ince excavation. The pair turned ov­er a piece of jawbone, teeth and bone fragments to the US government that month.

Subsequent newspaper articles stated that Flynn’s remains had been found, including one published March 30 in The Daily Tel­e­graph headlined: “Remains of Errol Flynn’s son, Sean, ‘discovered’ in Cambodia.”

March’s amateur dig was strongly criticized by former colleagues of Flynn as irresponsible and self-serving, though the two men had the support of Flynn’s half-sister, Rory Flynn.

JPAC forensic anthropologist Hugh Tuller said the “disturbed” state of the site “could definitely af­fect identification” when he and a team from the US agency returned to re-excavate in April.

Mr Rotheram, one of the amateur excavators, said yesterday that the news of JPAC’s DNA test re­sults was “disappointing” but cautioned that he and his partner never said for certain that the remains were those of Flynn.

“We never, ever claimed it was Sean Flynn, but we were 100-percent sure that we had a Westerner because of the quality of the dental work,” he said.

That claim is somewhat at odds with statements made soon after the dig, when the duo said they had evidence, including the testimony of a witness, strongly connecting the remains to Flynn.

Mr Rotheram, a Briton who considers himself an Errol Flynn look-alike, and who runs a bar called Flynn’s in one of his two Preah Si­hanouk City guesthouses, said he was not planning any more digs.

He also said he was “happy, be­cause I’ve gotten someone home to their families.”

When it was pointed out to him that the bones are likely those of a Southeast Asian, and that they are now in Hawaii, he said the future of the remains is in JPAC’s hands.

He said “no comment” and hung up when asked to respond to criticism of the dig.

Mr MacMillan, Mr Rotheram’s Australian partner, could not be reached yesterday. In the past, he has said he planned to excavate more gravesites in Cambodia in search of other missing journalists.

Tim Page, a colleague of Flynn’s, reiterated his criticism of the dig yesterday. He said identification of the remains that were unearthed is unlikely.

“It would be nice to find out who was dug up, but I don’t think there’s going to be much to go on because they put a backhoe through their skull,” he said, referring to the use of a mechanical excavator.

Mr Page said he will continue his own search for Flynn’s grave and will give any information to JPAC.

“Nobody’s allowed to go out and do private digs in this country,” he said.

Information Minister Khieu Kan­harith has said in the past that excavations for human remains needed to be done in cooperation with the Interior Ministry.

Asked about the dig, Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak referred questions to the POW/MIA Com­mittee, members of which could not be reached.

Choek Sa, governor of Kom­pong Cham province’s Memot district, has said previously that the amateur diggers had the permission of local authorities.

 

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