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Brashear and Mundt MIA,

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Brashear and Mundt MIA,

Brashear and Mundt MIA in Steel Tiger

The history project involves compiling both personal recollections and information from official USAF documents. Some of this material is lengthy and detailed. The data will be edited to several brief paragraphs succinctly describing the event for the history book. The full-length version of what transpired will appear in our quarterly newsletter so members may appreciate the total background magnitude of each story.

Major William J. Brashear and Lt. Henry G. Mundt, MIA, 8 May 1969 in Laos Compiled from MIA/POW Reports, Library of Congress and SAR files at USAF Historical Research Agency (HRA), Maxwell AFB, AL, by Norman Malayney

On 8 May 1969 Boxer 31 flight of three Phantoms left Cam Ranh AB (CRAB) at 0824 hours on a fragged seeding mission to Steel Tiger area in southeast Laos. Their target: a highway segment adjacent to abandon Chavane Airfield, considered a high threat area with 37mm adjacent to and 23mm reported in target area. Area weather was 1000 scattered variable to broken clouds and visibility six miles.

After aerial refueling, the flight arrived at the road location and began their attack. Boxer 32—“Rosie Dee” # 64-0805—with Major William J. Brashear and Lt. Henry G. Mundt, carrying 12 destructor M-36 mines, initiated a target run. They completed the attack pass at approximately 150 feet straight and level flying 500 mph. During recovery suspected 23mm/37mm enemy rounds struck the Phantom. Brashear pulled straight upwards, climbing through the broken cloud layers and both officers ejected at approximate altitude of 7,500 feet. Immediately thereafter, the aircraft exploded into a large fireball.

At this time period, Boxer 24 flight of another three F-4Cs from CRAB arrived in the area. According to element leader Major Mahlon L. Piper:

“FAC Misty 31(F-100) briefed Boxer 24 flight on the target we were to hit and then marked it with a smoke rocket. While confirming the exact objective marked by Misty 31, we reported observing another three ship F-4 flight below us in the target area. Misty 31 instructed Boxer 24 flight to hold high while he went to Hillsboro (C-130 ABCCC) to determine who had control of this other flight. While orbiting at about 19,000 feet and in a right hand turn, I observed a bright orange fireball out to my right. The time was approximately 0950. The initial explosion was followed by two smaller flaming sections breaking off and falling from the main fireball. Shortly after this I observed a parachute descending to the ground. My back seater also observed another parachute, a streamer which did not fully open. This was also confirmed by Misty FAC.”

The chute that resembled a streamer hit the ground one and one-half minutes before the good parachute. Both descended within 200-300 meters of each other in a high plateau of rolling terrain partially covered with trees and brush. Location: four kilometers east of Tonghe-Ghai and 500 meters north of Highway 165 (15 degrees 21 Lat and 107 degrees 05 Long).

Shortly after the fully deployed parachute landed, Misty FAC heard an emergency radio beeper signal and successfully established voice contact with the downed survivor. Unable to remember his call sign or name, the survivor had shed his parachute harness and hid in a tall grassy area. He could not move because of burn wounds and an injured leg. Misty FAC briefed him that SAR had been initiated and to maintain radio silence.

The following events are recorded in SAR documents:

Queen (SAR C-130 ABCCC) scrambled JG27 and JG07 (HH-3E helicopter), and Spads 11 & 12 (A-1 Skyraider) from Da Nang. Queen directed the rescue force to 245/70/Channel 77 (Da Nang). F-4C Boxer 32 had been hit and both crew members ejected. An F-100 Misty 31 was on scene and talking to one survivor located on a trail at 116/36/Channel 72 (Saravane, Laos). Weather encountered en route comprised thunderstorms 1500 to 2000 feet. The area was considered hostile but the On-Scene Commander (OSC), said if SAR got there fast, they should have no problems. Spad 01 took over as OSC from Misty 31 who was now directing the fast movers (Boxer 31 and 24 flight) south of the survivor along route 165. The survivor had an injured leg and Spad 01 requested pararescue support for pickup, and then checked a streamer parachute 200- 300 meters west of the survivor. Spad 01 received ground fire south of the survivor but none in the immediate area. The survivor reported he heard movement in his area.

Pressure altitude of the survivor was reported 3,500 feet and 26-degree Centigrade temperature. JG27 requested backup because of HH-3E marginal (performance) capability in this area. The density altitude was 5,600 feet, maximum power available 95% and power required to hover would be 92% with weight reduced by jettisoning all non-essential equipment and fuel. Items discarded included water reserve and survival gear, tools, smoke markers, all parachutes, chocks, and one can of ammunition.

Fuel required was computed to allow time for hover and necessary air refueling on return to channel 77. Fuel was not to be dumped until final decent for pickup to allow for unexpected delays. JG27 and 07 arrived in the area at 1021L and were cleared in by Spad 11 who now acted as OSC. According to JG27 pilot Major Anthony Argo:

“As we completed our second 360 descending run on final to the survivors smoke, the area became very hostile. Ground fire was encountered from our 4 o'clock and 9 o'clock positions with visible tracers all around the helicopter. I lost all radio and inter-phone receiver and transmitter communication at approximately 100 feet above the ground and 70 to 80 knots airspeed. I observed bunkers located strategically on the ridgelines and hillside in the cleared areas. The survivors’ position would place us in range and view of these bunkers. The extensive ground fire from our 9 o'clock position was coming from a clear area having fallen trees, and the 4 o'clock position on the edge of a cleared area in a tree line. The bunkers appeared to be a diversion for true location of ground fire. JG27 returned fire from both sides of the helicopter. A speedy climb was executed to the nearest clouds on an easterly heading. The accurate and rapid fire of the M-60 machine guns silenced the ground fire and saved the JG from further strikes. At this time, I aborted the flight.”

JG07 accompanied the battle damage JG27 helicopter back to Channel 77 (Da Nang). En route home, approximately five-miles east of the survivors and 4,000 feet AGL, they again picked up further enemy .51  caliber groundfire. A rapid return fire again silenced the hostile action. Spad 11 told Boxer 32 of what transpired and that more JGs were en route… he would call in 20 minutes. The survivor replied he lost his wristwatch. Spad 11 briefed him to come up when the area was buzzed by an F-100 turning on the afterburner.

The last transmission from the survivor at 1203 hours local stated he could hear considerable ground fire just to his north, then heavy rain showers moved into the area. Four Spad aircraft were called in to neutralize the enemy weapons. One of the Spad pilots reported that on his first pass he could easily see the parachute, but on the second pass it was less visible, and on the third pass it had completely disappeared. SAR was suspended at 1445 local but RESCAP aircraft covering the area continued an electronic search.

JG27 Crew                                       JG07 Crew

AC Major Anthony F. Argo AC         Capt. Bill M. Campbell 

CP Lt Col Homer H. Howell Jr.        CP Major Bruce E. Prouse

FE Sgt Walter A. Swenson               FE Sgt. Karl H. Chun

RS SSgt. Eugene L. Nardi                RS SSgt Stephen T. White 

AP Sgt. Jimmy L. Lester

The following recapitulation is for non-flying personnel providing details of both technical and atmospheric obstacles confronting the JG27 helicopter pilots during the rescue attempt.

Pressure altitude refers to the indicated altitude when an altimeter is set to 29.92" (the reference setting for North American aircraft). So as a baseline, the survivor was located at 3500' above sea level at what appears to be 26 degrees Celsius. Generally speaking, the higher a helicopter flies, the rotor system produces less lift due to the air being less dense. Hovering requires a significant amount of the available power; forward flight requires less power. The first negative result is the crew’s inability to hover as the rotor system cannot generate enough lift for the helicopter's weight. As altitude further increases, it may also become difficult to maintain forward flight.

Density altitude refers to the perceived altitude when temperature and humidity are factored in. So while the pressure altitude may be 3500', the aircraft will perform as though it's at a different altitude. The hotter and more humid, generally performance worsens. The effect is noticed by a reduction in lift by the wings (or rotors) and decreased engine performance, resulting in slower acceleration, decreased lift ability, decreased climb performance and the need to fly at a higher speed (or spin the rotor faster) to maintain the required lift. A combination of high, hot and humid is the worst-case scenario for a helicopter. This is exactly what this situation is presenting.

The survivor was at 3500 feet above sea level; however, when the temperature and humidity at that level are factored in, the aircraft would perform as if it was at 5600 feet. The JG27 pilot determined his aircraft (HH-3E) would have marginal (poor) capability in these conditions as he would require 92% torque (power) just to hover but would only have 95% torque (power) available. This would only give him a 3% torque (power) margin to stabilize his hover, pickup the survivor, then fly away. In other words, he had insufficient power to conduct the rescue unless either the environmental conditions changed for the better (cooler or less humid), the survivor moved to lower altitude, or he lightened his helicopter.

Unable to change environmental conditions or the survivors’ position, the remaining option is to reduce helicopter weight. To do so, the crew threw out all non-essential gear and excess fuel. This included emergency water and survival equipment, tools, smoke markers (to indicate a survivor’s position or their own position if shot down), parachutes, chocks (to block the tires on the ground to prevent rolling) and an ammunition can. They also elected to jettison their excess fuel (leaving bare minimum to conduct a pickup and then return home, likely with little to no reserve) but waited until performing a final approach to the survivor before doing so, in case of delays. The fuel factor is important: if they jettisoned fuel immediately and became delayed for any reason, they may not have had sufficient supply remaining to perform the rescue. In dumping the fuel just prior to the pickup run, they essentially became committed to a one-shot attempt, as there wouldn't be enough reserve to loiter and for a possible re-attempt.

In brief, the environmental conditions at the time of pickup, coupled with flying at high altitude where the survivors were located, made it impossible to conduct a rescue without reducing helicopter weight. After doing so, by discarding extra equipment and jettisoning surplus fuel, they were forced to abort the rescue attempt due to a very hot LZ (landing zone) from enemy ground fire. (via Jason Graveline)

The question remains, which officer--Brashear or Mundt--survived the ejection and communicated by emergency radio?

The MIA/POW/KIA report, Library of Congress, provides information obtained during debriefing of an NVA rallier, 1st Lt. Nguyen Duc Liem (herein known as SOURCE) who defected to IV Corps ARVN forces in October 1971.

On 19 May 1969, the birthday anniversary of former RVN President Ho Chi Minh, NVA defector SOURCE accompanied an infiltration group en route to the western Highlands area, South Vietnam. Early that day the group arrived at Como-Liaison Station (CLS) 65, Binh Tram, Attopeu Province, Laos. The CLS was located within several hours walk of the abandoned airfield at Chavane, Attopeu Province, Laos. That evening SOURCE’s group attended a cultural presentation performed by an entertainment group from the NVA General Political Directorate which just arrived at CLS 65 before infiltrating to the front area. This entertainment group provided skits and other similar cultural presentations to frontline troops in the area.

SOURCE’s group assembled in an open area theater with many other NVA troops authorized to attend the entertainment program. Those present included personnel from CLS 65; NVA infantry battalion members from Nghe An province en route to the front as replacements; personnel from Hospital 65, Binh Tram. Hospital 65 was located 30 minutes walk from CLS 65, exact location unknown. The hospital spectators included medical staff, NVA patients and one male Caucasian. Approximately 1000 persons attended the show which lasted two hours on the evening of 19 May 1969. Strict light security was enforced among participants due to openness of the bivouac area and the fact so many NVA assembled together at one location. 

During the show SOURCE’s group sat seated next to medical personnel from Hospital 65. SOURCE asked one of the medical staff about a Caucasian seated at the front with other hospital personnel. He told SOURCE the individual was an American Major, the pilot of a USAF F-105 bombing NVA facilities in the area. Air defense units shot down the aircraft that crashed northeast of Chavane Airfield about two weeks earlier. The pilot ejected and suffered a broken leg upon landing. He currently received medical treatment at the hospital and would probably be escorted to North Vietnam when able to travel. No other information was provided and SOURCE did not purse the subject further.

SOURCE stated the American sat throughout the performance, and due to the lack of light and the show itself, he did not pay too much attention to him. SOURCE was unable to provide further information concerning the individual, other than he may have been approximately five-foot ten-inches tall, based on how he looked at a distance of twenty meters. He did not appear to be young or too old, seemed in generally good physical condition, and dressed in hospital garb of light gray shirt and trousers. Although the individual reportedly had a broken leg, SOURCE did not see any cast and presume this was covered by the trousers. SOURCE heard no general discussion among other participants concerning the reported US pilot.

According to available information in the report, a USAF F-4C had been downed in the approximate location of Chavane Airfield on 8 May 1969. SOURCE’s information concerning date of the incident, location of the aircraft downed, and rank of the crew member is consistent with information available to this office concerning the loss of the F-4C cited above.

During the SAR radio conversation, the unidentified survivor stated he was injured and would require assistance to access the sling for recovery. Severe enemy ground fire forced the SAR helicopters to withdraw. In view of the survivor’s ground situation there is a strong possibility he may have been captured. SOURCE heard that the US POW he observed was a major, which could equate to Brashear who was a major at the time of the incident. The description also tends to fit Brashear who is 5’ 11” and 35-years-old when he crashed. SOURCE’s information that the POW had a broken leg correlates with the statement from the unknown survivor on the ground reporting he was injured. According to SOURCE the US POW held by NVA personnel underwent medical treatment at a hospital and would probably be transferred to North Vietnam when he could travel.

Neither Brashear nor Mundt are among US POWs known to have been captured by NVA forces in Laos, moved to Hanoi, and subsequently relocated during Operation Homecoming. If SOURCE’s information is true, the US POW probably died during transit to Hanoi. 

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