Aussie's last missing sent home

HANOI: Veterans and family members of the last two Australian servicemen who remained unaccounted for from the Vietnam War gathered Sunday to send the airmen's remains home after 39 years.

"This ceremony marks the end of an era," Mike Kelly, Australia's Minister of Defence Support, said to about 100 guests gathered on the tarmac of Hanoi's Noi Bai airport.

Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver, both 24, were the last Australians whose bodies had not been found after going missing in action during the Vietnam War.

An Australian search team located their remains in rugged terrain in central Vietnam's Quang Nam province in July.

Herbert's younger brother Shane, and Carver's sister-in-law Susanna Carver travelled from Australia for the ceremony where they sat before the two shiny wooden coffins, each draped in an Australian flag with an airmen's cap resting on top.

On a table nearby stood two black and white portraits of the men: Herbert, in his flying suit, and the moustachioed Carver with his helmet tucked under one arm.

Medals rested on a black pillow next to each photo.

Australian ambassador Allaster Cox said he was "particularly pleased" that Vietnamese officials were also at the ceremony which he said "will further advance the process of reconciliation."

Herbert and Carver had completed a night mission on November 3, 1970 and were heading home when their aircraft, known as Magpie Nine One, inexplicably vanished, Kelly said.

John Bird, 61, told AFP that he was supposed to fly on the same Canberra bomber as Herbert and Carver but at the last minute was told he wasn't needed.

"I said 'I'll see you in the morning.' Of course, they never came back."

An honour guard of Bird and other veterans, along with current Air Force members, carried the coffins onto a Royal Australian Air Force Hercules for their journey to Australia.