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USAF Oral History Interview

Documents Relating to the Indochina Wars USAF Oral History Interview The Baron 52 Shootdown TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW WITH LIEUTENANT COLONEL LIONEL H. BLAU CAPTAIN JOSEPH K. HARDER CAPTAIN RONALD R. RIBELLIA CHIEF MASTER SERGEANT RONALD L. SCHOFIELD INTERVIEWER Mr Willard R. Ellerson and Mr. James E. Pierson TRANSCRIBED BY: The Command Historical Office HQ Electronic Security Command San Antonio, TX 78243-5000 BARON 52 SHOOTDOWN SIDE 1, TAPE 1, BARON 52 Ellerson: Today is October 24, 1989. In Southeast Asia, we lost six DATA aircraft, sixteen aircrew members, and two personnel on the ground. The very last DATA lost was callsign Baron 52 on the 5th of February 1973. The Command History files are seriously lacking in information relative to this event. The history of Det 3, 6994th Security Squadron for that period, the unit Baron 52 was assigned to, apparently was never written. The Command History at that time was not being written at the DATA level, so there is nothing in the Command History reflecting the loss of this aircraft, or indications of the reporting of the incident. We have here today four members of the Command who were in Southeast Asia and associated with the Baron 52 activity at that time, and our interview will cover what they know about this incident and the loss of the aircraft and its crew. Colonel Blau, would you tell us what you're doing now and what you were doing then in Southeast Asia? Blau: I'm Lionel Blau (Lionel H., Lt Col, USAF). Right now I'm the Deputy Director of Spaces Programs at HQ ESC. At the time that Baron 52 went down, I was a captain assigned as the Ops Officer at Det 3 of the 6994th located at Ubon, Thailand. I had been assigned since the first part of January 1973. 2 Ellerson: Okay. Chief Schofield. Schofield: Ronald L. Schofield (CMSgt, USAF]. I'm assigned at HQ ESC as the Superintendent of Space Programs. At the time I was a TSgt in charge of the training section at Det 3, 6994th. I had been there since 21 August 1969. Ellerson: And you were the first one on the ground after the aircraft was lost. Schofield: I was right after the first PJ. Ellerson: And PJ is? Schofield: Pararescue. Ellerson: Pararescue. Okay. Captain Harder. Harder: Joe Harder [Joseph K., Capt, USAF]. At the time, I was assigned... I thought we were at NKP. Ellerson: Let's get the chronology of the units. Det 3 was at Ubon. It was originally activated at NKP when the 6994th Security Squadron was at Tan Son Nhut, South Vietnam. Later, the 6994th was moved to NKP and Det 3 to Ubon. So at this time, the 6994th was at NKP and Det 3, 6994th was at Ubon. 3 Schofield: Yes, sir. Harder: I was an airborne mission supervisor. I think I was a sergeant at that time. Ellerson: Out of where? Harder: NKP. Ellerson: Okay. Captain Ribellia. Ribellia: I'm Ron Ribellia [ Ronald R. , Capt, USAF], I was assigned at that time to Det 2, 6994th at Da Nang, South Vietnam. Most of the crewmembers that made up Det 3 at Ubon had come from Da Nang. Det 2 was in the process of closing, but we were still flying under the Vietnamization Program training the Vietnamese Air Force to assume the DATA mission when the U.S. would eventually withdraw from Vietnam. Ellerson: Okay. You hit on a good point I think that we ought to dwell on before we get into the loss of the aircraft. At this stage in the war, there was a drawdown basically going on in Vietnam. There was the Vietnamization program where we were transitioning the DATA aircraft to the South Vietnamese. There was still activity going on in Laos and Cambodia at this time. And we were still flying active DATA missions against the enemy -- all three of them (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). So 4 the period was right after the LINEBACKER B-52 operations in December of '72 where we had large scale bombings in the North and the loss of several B-52s in that activity. So it was during this transition period and drawdown that this occurred. Now, I'd like to read from the history of the '94th to refresh your memories of what the ''94th said about this and as a point of departure. And we'll make this a matter of record. Loss of Baron 52. On the morning of 5 February 1973 while flying the 11G Area DATA mission, Baron 52 aircraft, SN48636 was lost due to probable enemy AAA. Baron 52 had reported to DATA the presense of 37mm AAA at location XB975710, but called in an ops normal report at 1830Z. At 1900Z, when Baron 52 failed to make its ops normal report, DATA made a normal communications check, but got negative results. A SAR (Search and Rescue) effort was immediately started, as well as a recon effort to help locate the crash site. The crash site was finally identified and located on the 8th of February. A rescue force was sent on the 9th of February to investigate the crash site and recover any bodies and/or classified material that might have been left. TSgt Schofield and Sgt Keen of the 6994th Security Squadron accompanied the rescue force to aid in the recovery of all classified material and equipment that was on board. TSgt Schofield was the third man on the ground, preceded by two pararescue men who established a parameter. It was observed by TSgt Schofield that the main cabin must have suffered intense heat because all of the consoles were completely burnt . Of the remains of the three bodies found at the site, none were (sic] believed to be those of the Security Service crew. The USAFSS crew was listed as MIAs [missing in action] until 23 February 1973 when their status was changed to killed in action in spite of the fact that certain intelligence reports DATA had reported the capture of four fliers in the vicinity of the Baron 52 crash site. Ellerson: That's the end of the quote. Who wants to start off? The reports show there were 300-500 tanks moving through area 11. The next night, there was a report from the 6994th of up to 11 tanks in the area. So there was heavy tank movement through the area. The reports also show that there was concern about the AAA and possibly some SAMs in the area, which led to a discussion after the shootdown in theater, with 5 various theater people, to determine whether the DATA should fly back in there. This was at the end of March. So it appears to hae been a fairly high threat area. Schofield: Yes sir. There were 88s and 57s in there that were radar controlled. They were protecting the route -- 23s and 37s. The 37s could reach up there and get you, but at least you had a fighting chance with those. Ellerson: What altitude did you fly? Schofield: 10,000 feet. Ellerson: That's higher than I normally thought we were flying. Schofield: We started flying at 3,500. That was optimum altitude but that's when we lost the one aircraft and then they took it up to 10,000. Ellerson: Was this mission at night? Schofield: Yes sir. Blau: Our Smoker missions were at night. Ellerson: What was a Smoker mission? Describe a Smoker mission. 6 Schofield: That one was going in after the tanks. Where they put sensors [Project IGLOO WHITE], they had indications that there was a lot of tank movement on the trail. Our role on that particular mission was to identify and to locate the tanks. The problem with the tanks, though, DATA DATA DATA DATA . But that's what we were out there for. Blau: We were flying those every night. That was just part of our routine schedule. Harder: At the time, but it really didn't keep on that long. Blau: No, it did not. After Baron 52 went down, we didn't fly as many Smokers. Harder: I didn't know there was ever a doubt that we wouldn't keep flying. I don't think there was ever a doubt in anybody's mind that we'd stay in there. Ellerson: You're saying that there was a slowdown after.... Harder: I would say it was about a month afterwards. 7 Blau: There was a while after that that they determined we shouldn't be flying night missions. We flew daytime missions all the time. We just continued. Ellerson: What was the configuration of the aircraft? What was the COMBAT CROSS? DATA . Was it the DATA configuration? Schofield: Yes sir. Harder: It had to be to get up there DATA Schofield: Plus, it had a maintenance man on board. Blau: Yes, it did. Ellerson: So, how many crewmembers did it have? Schofield: For USAFSS, we had the DATA and the maintenance man. Five. And the frontend had four -- the navigator, pilot, copilot and third pilot. Ellerson: We only have four names listed -here for USAFSS -- Milton, Name, Name, Matejov. Schofield: We had a maintenance man on that aircraft. Blau: NAME. We only had three operators and one maintenance man on that aircraft, as I recall. Ellerson: So we agree there were four USAFSS individuals on that. aircraft and that's what the '94th history shows. What was the unit designation of the frontend crew 361st TEWS [Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron]? And their complement would normally be the..... Schofield: Normally the nav, pilot and copilot, but this one also had a third pilot. Blau: The navigator sat in the back with our crew. Ellerson: Okay. We've got who was on the plane. You say you had a bird up that night. Harder: In the adjoining area. Ellerson: In the adjoining area. According to the reports there was no report from Baron 52. Schofield: I think they checked into the area and that was their last communications. Harder: The AMS, in 10 Alfa at that time, heard that they were evading hostile fire. 9 Ribellia: Right.. They were under heavy fire, and that was the last transmission. That's what I understood at Da Nang. Harder: "Had evaded hostile fire," is what they said. Ribellia: Right. That's right. Harder: And everybody thought they were in the clear. Ellerson: That's what the report says they reported to DATA . DATA -- the presense of 37mm AAA. Blau: But then they called in an ops normal after that. Ellerson: Called in an ops normal at 1830Z. Harder: So everybody thought they were in the clear. Ellerson: And they missed their ops normal at 1900Z; that's when the Search and Rescue started. Harder: That's when our bird in the next area joined in the effort as much as possible, and tried to raise them up on the radio, but never did. Blau: They called me when they missed their ops normal. I was in bed and got dressed and came out. We had been calling trying to get our 10 secure comms through to the backenders. We thought perhaps something had happened to just the frontend, but we couldn't get through. That was not typical, not being able to talk to them. Ellerson: Was this on secure comms or unsecure? Blau: Secure. Ellerson: Would they have given their ops normal on secure comms. Blau: No. Ops normals were frontend. We worked secure in the backend. Ellerson: There was a thought in my mind as I read the background. Baron was assigned to most DATA at that time. And you were going in the clear..... calling in, in the clear, whenever you had a Baron whatever it was. Harder: That wasn't strange at all. Ellerson: No., but I was thinking of the OPSEC aspects. You were in the Vietnamization program at the time. You were training the Vietnamese DATA . You were transitioning aircraft. There was no doubt what the mission of the aircraft was. Ribellia: They knew exactly what we were doing. Schofield: MT MT MT MT MT Ellerson: Okay. Good point. Harder: In relation to what you were saying about OPSEC and COMSEC, later on we started changing callsigns daily. Ellerson: Yes, that was soon after. Ribellia: I thought it was a result of the Baron 52 shootdown that we decided to change callsigns. I think it was daily changing of callsigns. But the operational procedures then . . . You know, if anybody was listening to us, if they listened to the pilot, especially when we flew out of Ubon, we always took the same heading. We always headed south. When we moved to Ubon, the frontenders were flying the same track. There was a different callsign, but everybody knew we were coming. Ellerson: According to the history, after you lost contact with the aircraft there were many RF-4 missions and all kinds of Search and Rescue going on, until they took the photograph that we have here on the 7th of February. 12 Schofield: Originally, they thought that was an old crash site. There was a lot of controversy over that. Harder: You guys at the unit took a look at this and noticed that the positions made lumps at the right places. Blau: Actually what happened is that I had some previous PI experience before my tour over at Ubon, and when they told me that they had some film, I went to the 8th Tac Fighter Wing Intel shop where they had photo interpreting equipment. They identified some C-47 wreckages and I started going through those, one at a time, and I came to this one and identified that as a new crash site. When they said, "No, that's an old crash site," I had them come to check and MT MT to show that. was a new crash site. MT MT Ellerson: On the photo though, it gives the exact geographic coordinates of where that crash site is located. Blau: On our photo. Ellerson: On our photo. Blau: But at the time, that was just a strip of film. We just ran it through. 13 Ellerson : But, I'm just establishing for the history, we know exactly from this photograph where the aircraft finally impacted. Blau: That's correct. Ellerson: Okay. Blau: But that was three or four days after the aircraft went down. We did not know exactly where the aircraft had gone down. We knew the general area where it had been, and we were looking in that general area, and had requested and requested that fast FACs go over and take pictures. Ellerson: Okay. Blau: Let me go back to that incident because, to me, that's one of the highlights of my career. When they called me, of course, everyone was trying to put together what had happened. We had a Master Sergeant Ralph Jasper. Ralph was there and Jim Luther was there. We were trying to put together another crew to go up for the next flight. We had another flight to leave -- it was a normal flight -- about six o'clock in the morning the briefing time. I hadn't been in the office for more than about 10 minutes until Ralph pulled me aside and said, "Captain, I want to be on that flight. I want to be able to go out and show the young kids that we are not going to be held back if it was shot down. And we'll put together a crew and go out and we'll not only do our job, 14 but we'll look for those guys too." Before the actual takeoff time, I think probably 50 percent of the unit was out at the Det. At the time we lived downtown in the Krung Tong Hotel. I don't know how the word got to everybody, but they were there at the unit and I must have been cornered by 15 people that night asking if they could go. One of the interesting things that goes along with this is that Capt Bill Shey, who was the commander of Det 3 at the time, was on leave in Bangkok.. His wife had come over and he and his wife were in Bangkok, and Ed Marek [Edward S.] was there filling in as the acting commander. Ellerson: Now this is at the '94th? Blau: No, at the Det. Ellerson: Oh, at the Det? At Ubon. Blau: Brook Watts [Lt Col, Holbrook M. Watts, 6994th Security Squadron Commander] had sent him down. Since I had only been there for a month, he felt someone needed to be there who . . . Ellerson: So Ed Marek was there at the scene that night. I didn't realize that. Blau: So Ed was involved in this also. We sent out a crew that was just a topnotch crew to go back out after that. That was one of the neatest things, to see those guys pull together like that after one of 15 their aircraft had disappeared, basically from the face of the earth, as far as they knew. And the folks were just totally professional. As I have told PME classes that I have talked to, one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make was to send somebody else out there.: But at the same time it was one the most rewarding, because I had those guys there who were totally dedicated, the backbone of USAFSS, volunteering to go out and put their life on the line. Ellerson: Okay. Anything else on that night? Ribellia: You were at what --- 10 Alpha or 10 Bravo? Blau: I think we were at 10 Bravo. Ellerson: Describe what that means, please. Ribellia: The area was broken down. If you were flying in area 10, the area was broken down. I think the division was north to south. Ten Alpha was closest and then 10 Bravo . . . If I'm not mistaken, NKP had a bird up. Schofield: Yes, we did. Ribellia: That other USAFSS mission deviated from the mission track and went on a SAR, and they kept that bird up until it was virtually on fumes coming in, from my understanding. 16 Schofield: That's correct. Ribellia: They kept it up as long as they could. So the tasking had changed DATA Ellerson: So the other one from NKP that was airborne deviated to help try to locate the Baron 52 aircraft. Ribellia: Well, for a good portion. I know that the missions that flew out of Ubon, and the missions that flew out of NKP and from Da Nang were pretty much, even though we were tasked to go in certain areas, but I know we were on our own Guard Freq hoping that one of our guys might come up some way or another. But almost all of the missions that were in the immediate area, except for the ones that flew south, I think NKP had most of those, if we thought we were in radio distance we went on SAR. Ellerson: How many missions did we have up simultaneously at night. Blau: Two. Schofield: That's the most we ever had up. Blau: Two is what I remember. Ribellia: In that particular area. Because I know we still had some . . . 17 Schofield: When all 'the units were up, we had more than that. Ribellia: Oh., yes. We sent up Smokers at night too, out of Da Nang, but not during that particular timeframe. Ellerson: Okay. We've established it was a high threat area; tanks moving through the area, and lost contact after 1830. So, sometime between 1830 and 1900, we had two missions up and one got shot down or was lost somehow. And then after we located it.... Blau: One of the points that I always like to point out on these pictures is that this does not show the way the aircraft came into the crash site. When you look at the film, the footage that I looked at, it was very obvious that the aircraft had hit up on top of the hill and came directly in and impacted upside down. The wings were knocked off, and part of the aircraft, it looked to me like a tail section, was up on the hill. Ellerson: How far away up on the hill? Blau: Oh, I don't know -- 400 hundred yards. Something like that. Ellerson: A fair distance. The aircraft must have been moving fairly fast. Blau: The thing that I think is important is that the aircraft nose was still on a direct line with that hill. 18 TAPE 1, SIDE 2, BARON 52 Blau: The reason that I think it's important to note where that tail section was, or where that piece of fuselage was and where it hit up on the hill, and its relative bearing with the nose of the aircraft, is that in determining that the individuals were KIA, Col Francis Humphries, who was 8th Tac Fighter Wing Commander at Ubon at the time, the main thing that he said would cause him to say they were KIA was that if the aircraft was spinning no one could get out of the aircraft. I pointed out to him that that aircraft hit straight ahead. It was not spinning as far as I could tell. He totally disregarded that, as well as any other DATA messages. Ellerson: You mean an airborne evacuation as opposed to on the ground, because when it ended up it ended up upside down, so any survivors would have had to bailout. Is that a correct assumption. Schofield: Absolutely, sir, and there was an intel report Ellerson: Okay, but before we get into the intel report, tell us . . . you came in with the Search and Rescue'. You and one other individual. Schofield: Yes, sir, Sergeant Keen ( _________ need first name) who was Bravo maintenance. Ellerson: What did you find? 19 Schofield: We found the aircraft was on its back. We knew it had a full fuel load which accounts for the intensity of fire. All I was there for was to make sure there was no classified still available. When we got there, one of the PJs set up a parameter, and the other one and myself were looking for bodies. We only found three bodies and that was the pilot, the copilot and the third pilot. The backend, even the equipment was burned, and the Colonel (Blau) and I have talked about it. These aircraft flew with the doors on. If that aircraft had crashed with the door on, there would have been a little bit of it left at the top. There was absolutely nothing. It was gone. It looked like it had been kicked off. Ellerson: Kicked off; You mean ejected? The door had been ejected? Schofield: Pulled the handle and got rid of it and people bailed out. Because there was about 12 to 14 inches of the aircraft left and where the door was, the top of the door was open. The top of it was not there. But everything else had burned. And also the frontend -- nomex flight suits are good, I learned that -- you could recognize the pilot, copilot and third pilot, and there should have been some remains of the backenders in the fire, but there wasn't anything. Ellerson: Wasn't the aircraft totally flattened. 20 Schofield: No sir, it was upside down. But, we found the pilot and copilot right where they should have been, and the third pilot in front of the firewall. There was an area in there where the radios were on one side, and the distribution panel on the other side, and there was a little table in there. Ellerson: Now, wasn't the backend flat down to the ground when you walked in there? Schofield: The whole bottom was burned off. The aircraft was inverted and the whole bottom was off. The three bodies were right where they should have been. There should have 'been some remains in the backend, but there was absolutely nothing. Ellerson: It was upside down. Wasn't the floor on top of those things? Schofield: It was gone. Ellerson: It was gone. So it was all burned out. Schofield: The top of the aircraft was all there was left. Ellerson: The bottom of the aircraft, which was upside down, was all gone and everything was burned down. There's no possibility in your mind that they could have been cremated? 21 Schofield: I thought so originally. I've had this on my mind for a long time because, whatever I said, had a direct impact on the decisions made. No, I've given it a lot of thought and I've talked to the Colonel (Blau) about that, and the absence of the top of the door,: the intel report about the four fliers, shock, which indicates that they'd been suffering from burns, which they probably would have. We had another interesting phenomenon. DATA DATA DATA I brought this up and they said, "No, that's happened before." But I had five years in Southeast Asia, 4 1/2 on flying status, and never have I seen them just DATA They were very cautious because they could screw up pretty bad. And they were very amateurish out there. They had very little training and whenever they DATA DATA DATA And I felt in my own mind that they had, in fact, been captured and had been interrogated. Blau: Let me talk about the crew that was there. Matejov and NAME had been flying for a long time. Matejov had been a stan-evaler and I think NAME was too. One of the typical things on a smoker, if you were being shot at, you had on your parachute harness and, if they had chest packs, they had the chest packs sitting right next to them and they slapped them on. And I know for a fact that those guys could slap the chest packs on and be out the door in 1 1/2 minutes, because we 22 practiced that evacuation and they had more than ample time to get out a door. I've had a hard time accepting that they were killed in a crash, because I think that those guys would have been out long before they would have gone down with the aircraft. Schofield: We really couldn't spend that much time on the ground. We had some intruders. or whatever you want to call them, in the area. We called in some A-7s. They had just switched from the A-1 Spads to the A-7s and they made some passes, but nothing happened. And then we got an IFE (in-flight emergency) on the chopper that we were on, so we made the decision -- we had the body bags with us -- to try to recover one of the bodies. The one that was in the best position was the third pilot. And when we tried to retrieve the body, it separated at the waist and we were only able to bring up the upper torso. I carried the body bag up on the jungle penetrator into the helicopter. We probably should have spent some more time there, but because of the area, they didn't want to put us back in. Ellerson: Going back to our earlier discussion, there were four enlisted and the navigator in the backend. Blau: That's correct. Ellerson: So there were five unaccounted for in the backend. One officer and the four enlisted. I'm raising that because I've read the intelligence reports and I just want to make sure. They talked about four. 23 Schofield: There was nothing in the backend. It was totally burned out. There would have been something. After seeing the state of those Nomexes, they are good and they did protect the skin underneath the Nomexes. So there should have been some remains in the backend and they should have been identifiable, but there was nothing. Ellerson: Okay. Anything else we need to talk about before we move into the intelligence reports? Let me back up before we go any further. DATA in December 1972, issued a fairly scathing report about the lack of maintenance. I guess DATA had complained about lack of DATA mission fulfillment. There were strong implications about aircraft maintenance problems. Schofield: Yes sir, there were. As a matter of fact, we lost one aircraft. What happened was they pulled in maintenance people who had recip engine experience at the beginning. of their career, but had been in jets since then. So, yes we did experience some problems, especially with the actuator, with the flaps, where one part was being installed backwards and it caused some problems. It caused some hydraulic leaks. Ellerson: There was a serious concern, and then all of a sudden, it picked up fairly well. I'm not saying there was any lack of diligence on anybody's part. In April 1973, on 304 with the maxi, super goon, one of Marek's reports said he didn't want it to go to Ubon because of overloading. They put seven aircraft on the field, and they had maintenance difficulties down there. 24 Schofield: Ubon was the one that primarily had the maintenance problems. Ellerson: I'm trying to raise every spectre on whether it was shot down or might have ditched because Baron 53 had an emergency at Pleiku two months later, according to the histories. The point I'm trying to make here is: could it have been maintenance problems that caused it to go down? Blau: If it had been maintenance difficulties, those guys would not have stayed in the aircraft and there would have been maydays. Schofield: Also, on those four-seaters, they took the the normal engine was a R1830, which is a pretty small engine, but on the four-seaters, they took the R2004D off the DC-6, which is a big engine, and for this aircraft that was a lot of power. I've come in with one engine out and the other one coughing, and it brought us home, and that was on a four-seater; so those aircrafts were awfully forgiving. Ellerson: On the ground, also, there was some speculation, on the part of the pararescue person, that there were holes from antiaircraft in the body. Schofield: Yes sir. 25 Ellerson: That was pretty hard to tell, I imagine, from the aircraft having pancaked down and then flipped over 400 yards later. Schofield: He was more of an expert on it than I was, but that's what he said it looked like. Ellerson: Do you know if there was any effort made to go back to get the other two bodies? Schofield: I've asked that question sir. Ellerson: And you don't know of any? Blau: From what I understand, there was never anyone else who went into that crash site. Schofield: No sir. Blau: I talked to Mr. AN in the POW/MIA office at the Pentagon several years ago about that particular aircraft, and he told me nobody else had gone in, although they have made that a priority site to go back and look again, but as far as I know nobody else has ever gone Back to the Vietnam War Internet Project Documents Page Non-commercial distribution for educational purposes permitted if document is unaltered. Any commercial use, or storage in any commercial BBS is strictly prohibited without written consent. Posted to SHWV as article [email protected] by Dave Murray, February 24, 1998. Last Updated February 24, 1998. Send any e-mail comments to the SHWV moderators at [email protected]

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