On February 5, 1969, an EC47 (electronic surveillance) departed Pleiku Airbase, Republic of Vietnam on a tactical reconnaissance mission over Laos. The aircraft crew included LtCol. Harry T. Niggle, Capt. Walter F. Burke, Major Robert E. Olson, Major Homer M. Lynn Jr., MSgt. Wilton N. Hatton, SSgt. Rodney H. Gott, TSgt. Louis J. Clever, SSgt. James V. Dorsey Jr., SSgt. Hugh L. Sherburn (radio operator on the aircraft), and Sgt. Clarence L. McNeill. The last radio contact with the aircraft was at 8:10 a.m. at which time it was located about 21 miles west-northwest of the city of Chavane in Saravane Province, Laos.
When the aircraft failed to make a scheduled stop at Phu Bai Airport near Hue shortly before noon, search efforts were initiated to locate the aircraft. During the remainder of the day and for six succeeding days, extensive communication and ramp checks were made, as well as a visual search of the area from the last known position of the aircraft through its intended flight path. Because no information was forthcoming which would reveal the whereabouts of the missing aircraft and crew, the search was then terminated.
In the fall of 1969, the wreckage of an EC47 was located in a jungle-covered mountainous area in the approximate last known location of Sherburn's aircraft. The wreckage site was searched, and remains and a number of items were recovered. These items were later correlated to Sherburn's aircraft.
The Department of the Air Force believes that the aircraft was faced with a sudden airborne emergency since the right wing of the aircraft was found some 500 meters from the main wreckage site. It was believed that the engine caught fire causing the wing to separate from the fuselage while the aircraft was still in the air. Further, the Air Force states that although the crew members had parachutes, it is unlikely that the apparent suddenness of the emergency would have permitted anyone to abandon the aircraft. The absence of emergency radio signals further diminished the hope that any of the crew members could have survived.
At this time, the Air Force declared the ten men onboard the aircraft to be dead, and so notified the families. The remains found at the crash site were interred in a single grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Military officials told eight of the families that the remains of only two individuals had been identified, but would not reveal those identities to them. (It is assumed that the families of the two individuals identified were informed.)
In February 1970, the Sherburn family was informed that the remains found at the crash site were skeletal and commingled, and that Air Force identification specialists were unable to determine that they had a composite of ten individuals -- and were unable to establish the identity of any of the remains.
" Additional "
On 5 February 1969, Staff Sergeants, Louis J. Clever, Hugh L. Sherburn, and Rodney H. Gott, and Sergeants James V. Dorsey, Jr., and Clarence L. McNeill were reported missing in action while on an operational mission [out of Pleiku]. Their EC-47, tail number 45-1133, did not return to friendly control and they were declared MIA at the time of estimated fuel exhaustion. Their MIA status was terminated 9 October 1969 under the provisions of Section 556, Title 37, United States Code, and their status was changed to killed in action at the time of the incident.
[Ed. An EC-47Q. "Front end" crew members were: Burke, Capt. Walter Francis; Hatton, MSgt, Wilton Neil; Lynn, Maj. Homer Morgan, Jr.; Niggle, Maj. Harry Tillman; and Olson, Maj. Robert Eugene.] [ FURTHER NOTATION: This data was received from two seperate sources, and there is a difference in rank as listed in the two sources for Harry Tillman Niggle. One source, the first on lists him as a Lt. Col. and the second lists his rank as Major. For some reason, I am inclined to believe the first, Lt. Col. is correct.]
More on this incident, This data directly from
Official Declassified Documents
A SPECIAL HISTORICAL STUDY OF USAFSS RESPONSE TO WORLD CRISES
1949 - 1969
United States Air Force Security Service
When you see ( ), that portion was censored.
COMBAT COUGAR aircraft 45-1133, scheduled to fly MACV mission area 901B from 0030Z through 0330Z on 5 February 1969, departed Pleiku Air Base at 2300Z on 4 February 1969. The aircraft was scheduled for an operations stop at Hue-Phu Bai Airfield, Vietnam, at 0630Z after completing the on-target time of the mission.
Since heavy air traffic and other problems often extended ground time at Hue-Phu Bai, it was not unusual for a COMBAT COUGAR aircraft to be late in returning to Pleiku. Consequently, it was approximately 0900Z before there were and indications that the aircraft might be missing. At that time, Hue-Phu Bai contacted Det 2, 6994th Scty Sq and the ( ) Coordination Center ( ) and informed both organizations that the aircraft had not contacted them and had not made its scheduled operations stop>
The 362nd TEWS and Det 2, 6994th Scty Sq immediately started a communications search for the aircraft. They soon found that it had contacted "Ceflien Lion" (Ubon Radar Control) at 0010Z, 5 February 1969 to request radar tracking when checking into the area. The last known communications with the aircraft was 0013Z the same date when the aircraft passed its location to Ubon. Its location at that time was approximately 20 nautical miles bearing 130 degrees from Ubon.
At 0930Z on 5 February 1969, aircraft 45-1133 was officially declared missing in action and Search an Rescue (SAR) opertions were initiated. After two days of intensive search, all personnel aboard the aircraft were officially declared missing in action. The search continued. Finally on 17 May 1969, som 2 1/2 months later, information was received that a CAS Guerrilla Team had located a crashed C-47 aircraft at UTM grid coordinates XC856-286 on 16 May. The CAS team brought back several items from the aircraft. Among them was a USAF Flight Crew Check List Manual, one page of which was entitled, "Navigators Checklist EC-47, ALR-35." The CAS team reported that the aircraft had burned and there were bodies in it.
A 30-man Security Element/Recovery Team was sent to the crash site with instructions to recover bodies, equipment papers, weapons, and any other pertinent items available and then completely destroy the aircraft. However, little could be recovered. Apparently, the aircraft had crashed in an almost vertical position and there was an intense fire. Some portions of the wreckage were a mass of molten metal and one wing was foung 500 meters west of the actual crash site.
The Security Element/Recovery Team managed to recover remains of some bodies and parts of others. However, they were unable to determine how many bodies were actually represented in the remains that they recovered. The remains were first sent to Ubon and from there to Tan Son Nhut Air Base Mortuary Officer for possible identification through personnel and medical records. However, identification proved impossible. Consequently, all crew members of C-47 aircraft 45-1133 were officially declared missing in action.
The only other items recovered were a gear down lock pin, and EC-47 Navigators checklist, and two Smith and Wesson revolvers. After the recovery of the remains and other items, explosive charges were used to completely destroy the remaining hulk of the aircraft.
The unofficial paragraph below was supplied by Bob Garlits on 29 October, 2000. Thanks Bob.
I was at Pleiku when she went down. Some of us had just been transferred up from TSN for manning augmentation. There was a gap in the AAA along the trail the day of their mission and I believe it was the next day that gap was filled with an 87mm site. (On the mission briefing map) That's one reason for my great "love" for Jane Fonda sitting on that NVA piece. It's been a long time, but I think AAA is a better explanation for their crash than an engine fire. I was on board a bird with an engine fire and believe me, we had plenty of time to make a radio call. Also, the extinguishers put it right out. Just thought you might want to know this info. Bob Garlits
I wanted to update you on the recent trip to Southern Laos my wife Nita, my relative George Clever, and I took. Our hope was to find the crash site of the EC-47Q from my Dad's final mission.
Due to it being the rainy season along with the trailing edge of a monsoon which came up though Vietnam we were unable to reach the base of the mountain where the crash site is located. The problem of the rainy season had been considered prior to taking the trip and there was hope that since it had been over forty years since the war there had been some improvements in the roads in that particular part of Laos: the assumption was clearly wrong.
We were able to advance to Saravane, Laos which is about twenty miles from the site. Logistically this was a fairly easy trip coming in from Ubon Ratchatani and the Thailand border. The bus schedules were a little mis-matched which created delays, but the roads were in good shape. We did encounter a challenge from the daily truck rental drivers about where we wanted to go: even with the use of a map for a reference. The town of Ban Nongbua is only a few miles away and yet there did not seem to be much knowledge about it or how to get there.This could be due to a couple of reasons (ignorance to Pathet Laos supporters).
For beer drinkers there was a serious setback: we were only able to find BeerLao branded beer along with other local brews. This will need to be considered on the next attempt.
November or early December seems to be the ideal time to make a second attempt and basic planning has begun for a 2012 trip. Logistically it seems to make better since now to camp at the base of the mountain rather than returning to Saravane each night (small chance of a guesthouse nearby). Navigation is a challenge which has been overcome: the MGRS coordinates have been accurately translated to Long/Lat coordinates: GPS seems to match very closely with Google Earth so images and reference points are confirmed to be accurate for the mountain trek to the site.
One new and remaining challenge is manpower: The density of the jungle was a challenge to soldiers during the war and will be a challenge for a wreckage search. Local labor will need to be hired to help clear the brush and it remains unclear how close any remaining trail system on the mountain will get us to the site. There is about a 6 Kilometer stretch which remains undefined as far as foliage (which is a significant number).
Attached are a map and a couple of images which we used on the trip. There are also a couple of pictures of the Provincial Bomb Disposal Office in Saravane. George and I are next to a 2000 lb bomb and you can see they are still active in their search for unexploded ordnance.
As we now know; Air Force documents indicate two (possibly three) crew members where left behind. The effort of a return visit is a small measure compared to the price which has already been made. My plan going forward is: After I return to the US next month I will contact the current commander of the 6920th ESG in Japan to build support for re-opening the CAP 72 crash investigation. The best outcome would be for the Joint Recovery Task-force in Hawaii to make the excavation of the cockpit with qualified staff. As for a private approach: find the wreckage, mark the wreckage, clear the surrounding brush, and then if needed dig up the cockpit with less-than-qualified persons. Naturally George and I were disappointed with our coming up short this trip. It is just something we will need to learn from and then put away.
I will keep everybody update about a 2012 search attempt.
With 20 years in the Aircraft Field I would like to express my "Personal thoughts" on the loss of this aircraft. I do not wish to cause any hard feelings for anyone I only want to speak of and compare similarities of this loss to the loss of another C-47 from Nha Trang while I was stationed there with the 361st TEWS in 1966/67. This other aircraft belonged to another unit on base and I had a friend from Sheppard AFB who was the Flight Mechanic on it on the day it went down.
A fighter pilot supposedly saw the wing seperate on this other C-47 and said it went into a vertical dive as soon as the wing seperated. This aircraft was too at a few thousand feet altitude. When it hit the ground, it hit on the edge of a bluff along the coast with parts of the aircraft going into the water and parts into the jungle. And like 45-1133 the seperated wing floated down similar to a feather falling and was found about 500 yards from the rest of the wreckage.
Other than the seperated wing the largest parts of this aircraft recovered were the engines, propellers and landing gear. I do have photos of this aircraft that I personally took, posted on this web-site, take a look. It is my honest Opinion that this is exactly what happend to 45-1133 and if anything can ever be proven I believe this will be it.
To view these photos, click HERE.
Food for thought, for what it is worth.
My name is Paul Clever. I am the son of TSGT Louis J. Clever. My Father and nine others were lost when CAP 72 (45-1133) was shot down near Saravane, Laos in Feb 1969. CAP 72 was assigned to the 362nd TEWS at Pleiku AFB, RVN at the time.
It seems possible we might have met during an EC-47 Reunion in San Antonio, TX a few years back. I cannot be sure.
There is no other way to open this discussion than to just start typing:
With the secretive nature of the ARDF Missions in Vietnam the information given to families after a loved-one was lost was very vague verging on misrepresented. I have spent many, many years putting the story of CAP 72 together to meet a level of accuracy which puts the doubts to rest in my own mind. This story was finally vetted and accepted at the 6994th Reunion in Nashville, TN back in 2009.
During my research of the loss of CAP 72 some documents came to light which raise a possibility we left some our people behind. I have attached key documents as reference.
I won't get into to many details, but I take away from the documents that a "maximum recovery" was not achieved, a second visit to the site was recommended (and denied), and there is a possibility there were remains left in the cockpit which was driven underground in the crash.
My Father was probably represented in the remains which were recovered as well as the 6994th Crewmembers. Documents indicate remains recovered represented seven to eight of the crew. This leaves Major Lynn and Captain Burke in the cockpit. It could also represent one of the two Navigators which were on the flight or possibly the Flight Engineer in the cockpit as well.
I am writing you today because I have taken ownership of the matter surrounding Major Lynn and Captain Burke. It is my firm belief if we knowingly leave one KIA behind, then the covenant America shares with its fighting forces to bring them home when ever possible is broken. I also recognize all of our fallen Brothers are not going to be coming home (such is the nature of warfare), but we are obligated to give them our best effort. In the case of the Cockpit Crew on CAP 72 I do not believe we have met that standard. If there is shame to be had, then it falls on us.
In August 2010 I made a trip to Saravane, Laos along with my wife Nita and a relative. We moved to within 21 miles of the crash site, verified navigation conversion techniques, and identified challenges which would be faced on a more aggressive mission. I also wanted to test my own courage and resolve before publicly taking ownership towards making things right. I am proud to say I am good on both counts.
My dear wife is not so happy with the challenges which lay ahead (UXO, Jungle Wildlife, etc), but she is supporting her husband 100%. So far we have a search team of two (actually need 4 to 5), a retired Air Force Officer to help with the planning in the US, and a USAFSS Vet in Thailand to help with the logistical moves into Laos. Our goal is to locate the crash site and mark it with GPS on the next trip to Laos this November. Our search area is currently ¾ mile square and consists of dense jungle and mountainous terrain: needless to say a follow up trip may be needed.
We are getting some financial support and generous discounts on the supplies we will need while searching and ongoing fund raising.
I am requesting that you along with the officers of the 362nd TEWS Association look at the documents I have attached to make yourselves familiar with the details. If it becomes the position of your Association to support this effort, then please let me know. I am particularly interesting in an opportunity to be involved somehow with your October Reunion.
Note: Contact has been made in the past few years with the 70th ISR, Air Force ISR Agency, and a FTVA initiative at Goodfellow AFB to bring attention to this matter with no progress. I have no confidence remaining there will be a pro-active effort by the Air Force or U.S Government. However; my confidence in Americans to step up and shuck off their dependency on their government has not been shaken. Though a seemingly unpopular position in today’s environment I still believe in “American Exeptional-ism”. This mission can be completed if for no other reason than Americans have set out to do it.
In the end: America may or may not have left Major Lynn and Captain Burke behind. Our team(s) will either find remains at the crash site or they will not. The simple fact is this is going to be a tough mission.
My pledge is that in the end there will be no doubt a suitable effort was made to achieve a maximum recovery and bring any remaining crew from CAP 72 home.
Thanks Ed for your time and consideration.
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