The first U.S. aircraft at the scene were fighters launched from South Korea. They arrived at 0753Z on 15 April (16531) and departed at 0807Z on the same day (1707I), after reporting neither electronic nor visual contact. (1)
CINCPAC and 5AF coordinated on the feasibility of using a surface fleet in the search effort. Authority to proceed with the movement of the destroyers, USS Tucker and Dale, was given at 150835Z. (2)
At 150938Z, the HC-130 rescue aircraft, KC-135 tanker, and four F-106 CAP aircraft rendezvoused at CAP point 39° 39N – 130° 30’E. The F-106s refueled and the HC-130 with CAP proceeded to the search area. (3) The first SAR aircraft on the scene of the shootdown was the HC-130 which had launched from Tachikawa. It arrived at the scene at 151054Z.
Public release of information announcing a possible shootdown was made by the Defense and State Departments on 15 April 1969 at 1055Z. (4)
Weather conditions for the first and second days’ search were excellent. Scattered to broken clouds with bases of about 6,000 feet prevailed with some periods of clear sky and occasional cirrus. Visibility ranged from five to eight miles. The wind did not exceed 20 knots. The sea state ranged from calm with slight ripples to waves of three to five feet with occasional white caps. The sea temperature was 40°F. Weather conditions on the third day started out with multiple cloud layers from 300 feet to 21,000 feet, but by 1200 hours Local, it had improved to middle overcast.
At the end of the first 24 hours, a total of ten sorties were flown in the search area: four HC-130 sorties, four C-130 sorties and two P-3 sorties.
The magnitude of the search effort continued to increase for the next two days. Until the search effort was suspended, the total aircraft involved directly were:
The Soviet Navy and Air Force also joined in the search with the probable dual objective of gaining good will and intelligence infonmat1on.
The first reported sighting in the crash area was three very dim lights together. They were never sighted again, and it is possible they might have been life vest lights or even phosphorescence. On the first morning, 15 April, a P-3 spotted the crash site at 4119N/13150E, and directed Soviet vessels in the area to the scene. The P-3 reported the Soviets picked up a 20-man life raft and other debris such as aircraft insulation, cushions, life vests, etc. They also reported a possible man in a life raft, but they were unable to relocate it. Debris was reported as far as 60 miles from the crash site, but searchers were unable to confirm any of the sightings as other than wood and paper. In the wreckage area, aircraft crews reported orange colored objects, possibly impact opened parachutes, gloves, clothing items, sea dye marks, sheet metal, plastic, life vests, styrofoam, and other aircraft debris.
Coordination between the Russian naval units and U.S. search aircraft was difficult to establish and required some ingenuity, rut this was accomplished by the rescue aircraft dropping smoke on the debris they wanted picked up by the Russians, which they then recovered. (5) Later, a radio was airdropped to a Soviet vessel and contact was established. (6) Hopes were raised for the possibility of survivors when flare sightings and beepers were reported, but these proved to be erroneous. (7)
A COLLEGE EYE EC-121 was used to provide surveillance and F-106s, F-102s, and F-4s continued to provide CAP.
Two additional destroyers, the USS Sterrett and Mahau, were dispatched to join the USS Tucker and Dale for SAR. (8)
On the morning of the 17th, the Tucker recovered two bodies wearing flight suits. (9)
At 191855Z (03551), an HC-97 while working at a 4,500-foot altitude with the USS Sterrett at 41° 31 1N – 131° 36 1E was apparently fired upon, but not hit, by an unidentified surface ·vessel. The tracers were also seen by crew members of the USS Sterrett whose position was 20 NM from the vessel. (10)
SAR was directed to terminate on 19 April 1969 at 2203Z. (11) CAP was maintained over the USN surface units, until they were south of the 38° parallel on 20 April 1969 at 0955Z. (12)
1. Ltr, V.C. SAF to Commander Fleet Air West, subj: Af Search Activity, 28 Apr 69.
2. Msg, CINCPAC, subj: Movement of USS Dale and Tucker, 150908Z Apr 69.
3. Msg, 314/4AOV, subj: 314AO Chronology, 211050Z Apr 69.
4. Msg, CINCPAC, subj: Public Release, 151055Z Apr 69.
5. Msg, 314AO, subj: SAR Report, 160715Z Apr 69.
6. Msg, 314AO, subj: Search Effort, 160355Z Apr 69;
Msg, 314AO, subj: Search Effort, 160121Z Apr 69;
Msg, 3140CC, subj: Search Effort, 160630Z Apr 69.
7. Msg, 314AD, subj: Erroneous Signals, 151330Z Apr 69.
8. Msg, CINCPAC, subj: USS Sterrett and Mahan, 151344Z Apr 69.
9. Msg, 5AF, subj: Search Report, 170330Z Apr 69;
Msg, 314AD, subj: Search Report, 152045Z Apr 69.
10. Msg, 314AD, subj: Vessel Firing at Rescue Aircraft, l91940Z Apr 69 .
11. Msg, CINCPAC, subj: SAR Termination, 102203Z Apr 69.
12. Msg, 314 DOC, subj: CAP Termination, 201005Z Apr 69.
17 April 2023 at 10:13
Read my article on the subject: https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/nwc-review/vol73/iss2/9/
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18 April 2023 at 14:17
It bothers me that way back on November 6, 1951 other USN aircraft (P2-V, Neptune) with 10 crewmen aboard was shot down in the same vicinity & on the exact same mission. And, yet the bureaucracy reduces concern over the safety of these men. All 10 are still listed as MIA. What does it take for the bureaucracy to learn to be much more careful with men’s lives?