Forever a friend
A note from The Virtual Wall
While it is clear that a USAF HU-16 Albatross (serial 51-7145) went down offshore North Vietnam on 18 Oct 1966, there is conflicting information with respect to exactly what happened. The twin-engined Albatross, an amphibious aircraft capable of landing on water or runway, was crewed by
Except for John Shoneck the crewmen were from the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, based at Danang; Shoneck was an HH-53 helicopter mechanic assigned to the 38th ARRS, also at Danang.
- Major Ralph H. Angstadt, pilot;
- Capt. Inzar W. Rackley, Jr., navigator;
- 1Lt John H. S. Long, co-pilot;
- SSgt John R. Shoneck and
- TSgt Robert L. Hill, flight mechanics;
- SSgt. Lawrence Clark, radio operator; and
- A2C Steven H. Adams, pararescueman.
Chris Hobson's authoritative work "Vietnam Air Losses" gives the following account of the loss:
"An Albatross amphibian took off from Da Nang in poor weather for a patrol over the Gulf of Tonkin. Using the call sign CROWN BRAVO, a name that was assigned to the afternoon patrol of each day, the aircraft encountered worsening weather and failed to make a routine radio report. As soon as the weather cleared enough a second Albatross left Da Nang to search for Maj Angstadt's aircraft. The Albatross was joined by Navy ships and aircraft but no trace of the aircraft or of its crew was ever found. The aircraft's last known position was about 40 miles off Dong Hoi [a North Vietnam coastal town a bit north of the DMZ] and it was suspected that the aircraft was lost due to extreme weather rather than enemy action." (Hobson, p.78)
The Jolly Green Organization ("JOLLY GREEN" was the Vietnam nickname for the USAF SAR helicopters) carries the following note on 51-7145:
"The aircraft was on a SAR orbit north of the DMZ and reported to a Navy ship he was returning to his home station, Danang. This was the last contact with the aircraft and no trace of the aircraft or crew was ever found." (http://www.jollygreen.org/jltnc.htm)
Task Force Omega
sites carry a more complex story. In summary, the two sites report that the HU-16
There are some mis-statements in both the POW Network and TFO summaries that call into question the other undocumented statements made in the biographic reports.
- Was from the 33rd ARRS.
- Was on a SAR mission to pick up a downed aircrew about 80 miles off the China coast in the northern part of the Gulf of Tonkin.
- Was escorted by "Two A1E Skyhawks", which parted company with the Albatross after a successful SAR pick-up.
- Last made radio contact at "5:45 p.m." or "1745 hours" (the same time), although Task Force Omega goes on to say that "At 2231 hours, all contact was lost with the amphibious aircraft".
Overall, it appears that the HU-16 was on a routine SAR patrol offshore Route Package 1 in North Vietnam and that it went down due to weather conditions. What is uncontested is that seven Air Force aircrewmen were lost.
- The 33rd ARRS was based at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, not at Da Nang. Both Hobson and the Jolly Greens assign the aircraft to the 37th ARRS, Danang.
- TFO says that the Albatross was "capable of making vertical recoveries on land or over water" and of course it was not. As an amphibian, it could land on water but it certainly couldn't hover for a vertical recovery.
- Both sites say the Albatross was escorted by "A1E Skyhawks"; the A-1 Skyraider (USN/USAF) and the A-4 Skyhawk (USN/USMC) are two very different aircraft.
- Both sites state that the last radio contact was made at 5:45/1745 hours but TFO implies that other contact (radio? radar?) continued for nearly five hours after 1745.
- Both sites indicate a successful SAR pick-up but then dismiss the absence of any personnel aboard the HU-16 other than its crew. The POW Network simply says "There is no available information on the downed crewman the Albatross was sent to rescue." while TFO says "Because there is no record of the identity of the pilot recovered during this missing, it is believed he was a member of an allied force". No other US aircraft went down over the Gulf of Tonkin on 18 Oct 1966, and no allied (i.e., South Vietnamese) air operations were conducted in the northern Gulf of Tonkin.
The UH-16 crew received promotions during the period they were maintained Missing in Action: Angstadt and Rackley were promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel; Long to the rank of Captain; Clark and Hill to the rank of Chief Master Sergeant; Shoneck to the rank of Senior Master Sergeant; and Adams to the rank of Master Sergeant.
On 18 July 1973, the Secretary of the Air Force approved Presumptive Findings of Death for all seven men. Their remains have not been repatriated.