Time on my hands, bookings getting cancelled, and the future is uncertain. Time to do something we’ve been planning for some time; explore crash sites along the Trail in Laos. So let’s go. My good friend Mr Rudi flies into Vientiane and I ship a bike down to him, ready for his arrival. I’ll drive down on the 6th and meet him outside of Vientiane near Tabok. From there, we head to the Sainamhai resort near Ban Nahin in Khammoune province. Quite a long drive. But spirits are high as we get on the move.
So the first thing was to get to Vilabouly and find a guest house to plan the rest. We decided that the next morning we would make our way to the village of Ban Kokmak. At that point, we would contact the village head to seek his help in our search for two F4 Phantoms shot down in the area during the War.
On March 10, 1969, Lieutenant Colonel Luna and Captain Aldis P. Rutyna were in one of two F-4D aircrafts on a combat mission over Laos. Their aircraft was hit by hostile ground fire while over the Route 9112/9116 Road junction. The JCRC (Joint Casualty Recovery Center) currently carries them as lost over Savannakhet Province. Conversely, the Defense Intelligence Agency carries them as lost over Khammouane Province.
The second site we were keen to find was of Capt. James E. Steadman and 1st Lt. Robert D. Beutel (back seater) who were aboard an F4D Phantom jet assigned to the 497th TFS at Ubon, Thailand. On November 26, 1971, the two were flying a mission out of Thailand and over Laos. Just inside Laos, in Savannakhet Province, their plane disappeared. No one knew for sure if it was hit or had mechanical trouble – it just vanished. No remains or wreckage of the plane was ever found. However, we now believe this to be the crash site we visited.
The sites are very close to Ban Laboy and the Ban Kari pass. POL (petrol, oil, and lubricant) lines, men, and munitions flowed into the area via the pass over mountains and deeper into Laos, a hot spot indeed. Also, Charlie, Alpha, and Bravo choke points were close. As a result, it got a lot of attention from the air. Both crash sites have been dug by the US MIA teams, Luna back in 2014 and Steadman last year. All the information about these incidents can be found on the internet. But we were helping a family member locate the area for their visit later in the year.
Upon arrival in the village, we produced a letter outlining who and why we are there and that we needed help. The Nai Ban (head of village) was very accommodating and within 15 mins we were on our way to the sites. In total, we spent a few hours there as the sites are all within meters of each other. Whilst there, we saw a 3rd site of a FAC that was also shot down in the same area, Alva Krogman.
1st Lt. Alva R. Krogman was a FAC assigned a mission over Laos on January 17, 1967. At a point west of the DMZ in the extreme northern portion of Savannakhet Province, Laos, his aircraft was shot down. Krogman, who was
believed to have died in the crash of the aircraft, was never found. Although he is listed as killed, he is also counted among the missing because no remains were ever recovered to return home.
After taking some pictures and way points etc., we went back to the village and bought a case of beer for the villagers. We paid the Nai Ban handsomely and left the village to check out some areas that Luna Carter was last seen. However, this proved difficult as the jungle has taken over, but for sure there are signs in the area such as clearings which do not look natural. After looking around at two areas, we called it a day. While it is interesting indeed looking through crash sites along the trail in Laos, it’s not to wise to go walking around in the countryside. UXOs remain…