Name: John T. Downey 
Rank/Branch: Civilian 
Unit: Central Intelligence Agency 

Date of Birth:

Home of Record: New Britain, CT
Date of Loss: .29 November 1952 
Country of Loss: China
Loss Coordinates: GH01818 66405

Status in 1973: Returned Prisoner Of War 

Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: C-47 "Skytrain"
Other Personnel In Incident: Richard G. Fecteau (returned POW); Robert C. Snoddy and Norman A. Schwartz (missing) 

REMARKS:  730312 Released By China

SYNOPSIS:  The twin-engine Douglas C-47 Skytrain was the most widely known, and probably the most widely used, aircraft in the history of the US Air Force. It served in every combat theater in World War II and was produced in greater numbers than any other transport. It was first delivered in October 1938, but the first orders for large quantities in 1940. During the Korean War, and later the Vietnam War, the C-47s transported badly needed troops and supplies into combat areas and flew the wounded out.

During the Korean War, the CIA became interested in the All American (recovery) System originally developed during World War II by All American Aviation. The system employed rigging to pick up an individual on the ground by use of a transfer line connected to poles. A specially equipped aircraft using a trailing hook would pass over the transfer line, snag it with the hook and reel the person into the aircraft.

In late 1952, China and the United States were fighting on opposing sides in the Korean War and the CIA was trying its best to undermine the fledgling communist regime on its home territory. To that end, in the spring and summer of 1952, the CIA trained anti-communist Koreans in the art of spying and inserted them into specific areas of China to establish a resistance network, collect information and report on items of interest to the US intelligence community. As needed, supplies were also air dropped to members of the resistance movement.

On the evening of 29 November 1952, Robert C. Snoddy and Norman A. Schwartz, pilots; comprised the crew aboard a Civil Air Transport (CAT), the CIA's contract airlines, C-47 Skytrain. The flight departed Seoul, Korea to conduct "Operation Tropic," a clandestine mission over Manchuria, Kirin Province, China. Also on board were passengers John T. Downey and Richard Fecteau who were CIA case officers sent in to pick up anti-communist Chinese agents they were controlling who had been inserted into the region the previous July.

Unaware that a double agent betrayed them, the Skytrain approached the pick up point. However, before it could affect the recovery, communist anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) gunners shot it down. It crashed into the foothills near the town of Antu, Kirin Province, now known as Jilin.

Robert Snoddy and Norman Schwartz were killed while John Downey and Richard Fecteau survived and were captured. Meanwhile, when the aircraft failed to return to base and no information about the fate of the Skytrain's aircrew and passengers was forthcoming, Robert Snoddy, Norman Schwartz, John Downey and Richard Fecteau were declared missing. At the end of the Korean War, they were all reclassified Killed/Body Not Recovered.

After capture, the communists extensively interrogated Richard Fecteau and John Downey over many years to obtain every scrap of information possible about the CIA and their activities in China. Eventually they were transferred to Peking, where they spent the bulk of their captivity in solitary confinement.

On 13 December 1971, the Chinese unexpectedly released Richard Fecteau to US control. During his extensive debriefing, he told US intelligence personnel that other Americans, including John Downey and Philip Smith, a US Air Force pilot shot down over China during the Vietnam War, were alive. Further, he provided specific and detailed information about their confinement as well as his nearly 20 years in captivity. For the first time, the US Air Force had positive proof that Capt. Smith was in fact alive and they immediately upgraded his status to Prisoner of War.

On 17 February 1972, then-President Richard M. Nixon made his historic visit to Peking. In addition to discussing in depth the Sino-American relationship and the need for improvements with Chairman Mao, Capt. Smith believes that although his release was not secured at that time, positive results were achieved in government-to-government relations that directly affected the American's situation. For example, the same prison authorities and guards, who were once dealing out harsh treatment in austere living conditions before President Nixon's trip, were directed to adopt more humanitarian practices toward their captives. The hard reality is that Philip Smith and John Downing could have remained prisoners of the Chinese long after the Vietnam War ended if relations had not improved between the United States and China.

On 12 March 1973, John Downey returned to US control when he walked across the bridge from mainland China to Hong Kong. Three days later, on 15 March 1973, Smith did the same. They joined 591 American military and civilian Prisoners of War who returned during Operation Homecoming in 1973.

Early in 2002, the US and Chinese opened negotiations to discuss allowing an American recovery team to search for the remains of the Skytrain's aircrew. During the negotiations, in response to questions raised regarding the fate of Robert Snoddy and Norman Schwartz, the Chinese government told the Pentagon only that the men's charred bodies were found and buried at the snow covered crash site. Finally China granted permission for the US Defense Department to search the site. This agreement marks the first time Beijing has cooperated on a search for the remains of Americans who died in China during the Cold War. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said that China decided to permit the search to promote "friendship between the two peoples and in a humanitarian spirit."

In July 2002, a joint team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) traveled to northern China to investigate the loss of the C-47. Accompanying the JTFFA team was John T. Downey, who was one of the CIA case officers who survived the crash and who is now a Connecticut judge.

Over the week period of time they spent in China, the Americans interviewed local residents, including a man in his 70s who stated he saw the Skytrain crash. He provided the team with specific firsthand information about the location of the wreckage including the fact that it was situated near a stream.

The eight-man team traveled to the site identified by the witness and conducted a site survey. They began by clearing a 50-square-yard area and conducted a visual and electronic search using metal detectors to uncover any remnants of aircraft wreckage. During the surface search, they found numerous pieces of wreckage, but found no crew related items or signs of graves in or around the immediate area. To date no arrangements have been made to return to the site to conduct a full-scale crash site excavation.

There is little doubt that Robert Snoddy and Norman Schwartz died in the loss of their aircraft and that their bodies were buried nearby. Each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. With the continued cooperation of the Chinese government, that may well happen. Above all else, they have the right not to be forgotten by the nation for which they gave their lives.

US personnel in the Korean War, as well as the Vietnam War, were call upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.