Baron 52: Which Makes More Sense?

On the night of February 4th - 5th, 1973, an EC-47Q electronic intercept aircraft, based out of Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base was lost over Laos. It carried an 8 man American crew. It's call sign was Baron 52.

The EC-47Q is a modified transport plane derived from the Douglas DC-3. It is a two engine propeller-driven aircraft. It has a cruising speed of approximately 160 knots, (185 mph), and a maximum speed of approximately 200 knots, (230 mph). At 8,500 feet, it had a range of approximately 1,500 miles.

The EC-47Q patrolled southern Laos, the western borders of South Vietnam and the coastal waters off North Vietnam, picking up radio signals. The missions flown by EC-47Q crews provided valuable information for the planning of tactical fighter or B-52 strikes.

What valuable information was this particular flight, Baron 52, attempting to gather, since the Paris Peace Accords were signed at the end of January, 1973? What tactical fighter strike, what B-52 bombing run was Baron 52 gathering information for?

The Crew of Baron 52 included members of the 361st Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron, (the men who flew the aircraft), and members of the 6994th Security Squadron, US Air Force Security Service, (radio operators and intelligence specialists who sat in the back end ["backenders"] of the aircraft).

Baron 52 Crewmembers were ordered to fly this mission sanitized. No US markings whatsoever. Nothing to identify them as US Military. One of the crewmembers, Peter Cressman, had become so concerned about US violations of the Peace Accords, he began writing a letter to his Congressman about his concerns. But the sanitized flight of 4th - 5th February had interrupted his completion of this letter.

The flight crew had been required to report its position ever thirty minutes; on the hour and the half-hour and they were to report any unusual occurrences, such as mechanical failures, enemy anti-aircraft fire, immediately. They took off from Ubon at approximately 2305 hours on the evening of 4 February 1973. (Eight days after the signing of the Accords).

Timeline Baron 52

  • 0010 hours: 5 Feb 73, Baron 52 speaks with Baron 62, another elint ship, Baron 52 would fly south. Baron 52 also advises a "Spectre" AC-130 gunship, ("Spectre 20"), three F4's and an airborne command-and-control aircraft, ("Moonbeam") of their intentions to head south.
  • 0039 hours: American ground radar station in Thailand records it last radar plot of Baron 52, a few nautical miles west-northwest of Attapu, Laos.
  • 0125 hours: Baron 52 radios that several rounds of anti-aircraft artillery had been fired at Baron 52.
  • 0130 hours: Baron 52 radios "Ops Normal, All Clear."
  • 0140 hours: Baron 52 radios that it has been fired upon by radar controlled AAA guns at a location approximately 60 nautical miles northeast of Attapu, Laos. This is the last position reported by Baron 52.
  • 0200 hours: Baron 52 fails to make its scheduled report. Two ground stations and an airborne command-and-control-center aircraft tried unsuccessfully to contact Baron 52 on guard frequencies as well as other radio frequencies.
  • 0210 hours: Search and Rescue is deployed. The three F4's, Spectre 20 and Baron 62 head to assist Moonbeam in SAR efforts. Moonbeam and ground stations conduct visual and communication searches for Baron 52.
  • 0600 hours: Search and Rescue report negative results.

  • It appears that Baron 52 went down within the 20 minutes that lapsed between the time they reported being fired upon by radar controlled AAA guns, (0140 hours), and the time that it missed its regularly scheduled check-in, (0200 hours).

    Baron 52 was not the only thing missing though.

    What's Missing From This Picture ?

    You will undoubtedly note that Baron 52 acknowledges that it had been fired upon, not once but twice. Once at 0125 and again at 0140. The difference between the two reports is the absence of another, "Ops Normal, All Clear," call, similar to the one made at 0130, after the 0125 report of taking AAA fire. Why wasn't Search and Rescue scrambled when they failed to give an "All Clear" call? Why didn't Moonbeam, the three F4's, the Spectre Gunship and Baron 62 start the ball rolling when Baron 52 failed to make an "Ops Normal, All Clear" call? Why would they wait 20 minutes for Baron 52 to make a scheduled check-in, in view of the fact that they had made a second call noting enemy fire?

    Why would they wait 20 minutes for an "All Clear"?

    If the 2nd engagement by enemy triple A batteries had failed, procedure dictates an "All Clear" call to be made from Baron 52. Ifprocedure, for some strange reason, did not dictate it then common sense would have. Why would Baron 52 call in an "All Clear" signal the first time but not call it in the second time?

    Procedure also dictates that in the absence of such a call, an all out effort be immediately launched to ascertain why not, or what happened to prevent the "All Clear" call.

    The Department of Defense notes that within 20 minutes of Baron 52's failure to check-in at 0200, Search & Rescue, the three F4's, Spectre 20, Baron 62 and Airborne- Command-and-Control Moonbeam were searching for Baron 52. But it was not within 20 minutes of Baron 52's failure to report in. It was forty minutes after Baron 52 failed to give an "All Clear."

    Four days later, on 9 February 1973, a Search and Rescue force lowered three pararescue specialists from the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron as well as a radioman from the 6994th SS down to the main wreckage. Their mission was to seek out signs of survival, recover any remains and determine if the special electronic equipment and documents from the back end of the aircraft had been destroyed.

    They spent about 15-20 minutes on the ground. Much of that time had been spent in an attempt to recover a set of badly decomposing remains from the front end of the aircraft, placing it in a body bag and rigging it to be lifted by cable to a hovering helicopter. The radioman reported that he had seen three bodies; two in the pilot and co-pilot seats and one in the engineer's compartment behind the pilot's cabin. One of the pararescue specialists thought he saw a fourth body near the engineers compartment. This would account for all the front-enders, one of whose partial remains were recovered at the crash site.

    What About The Backend?

    The Department of Defense claims that the search team did not enter the fuselage, (backend), of the aircraft because of fear of booby-traps and uncertainty of the structural soundness of the wreckage. In fact, they note that the pararescue specialists contemplated rigging a sling from the SAR helicopter around the fuselage and lifting the wreckage to search for additional bodies, but decided that the wreckage would not be able to take the strain. The Department of Defense states that although the pararescue specialists reported the back-end "clean," what that meant was that the ensuing fire from the crash had consumed everything in the back-end of the aircraft, although the fire appears to have missed the front of the aircraft.

    To illustrate the point, DoD notes that there was still five hours worth of fuel on the aircraft when it went down; the only US aircraft shot down that day.

    So the 15-20 minutes spent on the ground four days after Baron 52 was shot out of the sky, on a sanitized mission eight days after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, three pararescue specialists had recovered the partial remains of one of the front enders, had assessed the structure of the fuselage, determined that the special electronic equipment and documents had been destroyed and determined that a fire fueled by five hours worth of fuel had consumed everything in the back (fuselage) of the aircraft.

    The families of all crewmembers were notified of their loved-ones demise in the service of their nation, were told to hold memorial services for the crewmembers whose remains had not been retrieved and on behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful Nation, may we offer you this American Flag?

    In other words, we signed a peace treaty, violated it within eight days and we are not about to re-start this unpopular war, ("grateful nation?"), to go and retrieve their remains especially since we know that the back-end of the aircraft, the area where we kept our sensitive equipment, was clean. Hold memorial services, sit down and shut up!

    Enter Jack Anderson

    Mary Matejov was cleaning her house in Long Island, New York, five years after the loss of her son in the Baron 52 crash, listening to one of the morning news programs when she heard reporter Jack Anderson discuss US intelligence on a flight that was shot down eight days after the peace accord had been signed. Knowing that Baron 52 was the only US aircraft shot down that day, Mary paid more attention to the program.

    It appears that there were NSA and USAF listening devices in the area where Baron 52 had crashed. Further, there was intelligence from those listening devices whereby enemy transmissions showed that the North Vietnamese were claiming to have captured "Four Air Pirates," or fliers. A second transmission within an hour of the first had the North Vietnamese claiming to be moving these captured fliers North.

    Do the math. If the two pararescue specialists saw three bodies in the front end of the aircraft and the third specialist thought he saw a fourth near the engineer's compartment, the back-end of the aircraft was clean; no equipment, no document, no chutes, no remains, no nothing and NSA listening devices intercept North Vietnamese radio transmissions claiming to have captured four fliers on that very day and were moving them North, just who do you suppose it were that had been captured and were being moved North?

    That is exactly what the Matejov and Cressman families have tried to find out.

    Until Anderson's report, none of the families involved had ever been told about the radio intercepts claiming the capture of 4 pilots or pirates.

    It turns out that within five and a half hours of Baron 52's shoot down, in a voice transmission, unclassified portion of that transmission reads,
    "Group 217 is holding four pilots captive and the Group is requesting orders concerning what to do with them. . ." A follow up transmission noted, "Group 210 has four pirates; they are going from 44 to 93."

    Another Incompetent in USG Employ

    Between 5 February and May 1973, US Air Force analyst named Jerry Mooney working from Fort Meade MD correlated these two transmissions to Baron 52. The US government did nothing with Mooney's analysis until the Matejov and Cressman families started making noise over Jack Anderson's report. Then it was far easier to trash Mooney than it was to answer the concerns of the families.

    The US government employs more incompetents, disgruntles, whacko's and crazies than any other employer on the face of the earth.

    Whenever caught off guard, the US Government does everything in its power to portray someone as incompetent, disgruntled, whacko or crazy. Jerry Mooney was to be deemed the former, incompetent. He would join, or soon be joined by, Col. Millard Peck (Incompetent), General Tom Lacey (crazy), who, incidentally, was in charge of one of the US nuclear arsenals, Congressman Billy Hendon (whacko), Colonel Philip Corso (whacko), Garnett "Bill" Bell (disgruntled), Commander Chip Beck, (disgruntled), Dr. Timothy Castle (disgruntled) and the list goes on and on.

    Mooney was incompetent, according to the government. He was not a Vietnamese linguist and was unable to reconcile Vietnamese wording meaning "pilot" or "pirate." In Mooney's final analysis of the intercepts, he wrote that the captives were being held by "Group 210" or "Group 210B," never realizing that in the spoken Vietnamese language, "210B" is phonetically similar to "217." The government makes its case against Jerry Mooney by pointing out that "going from 44 to 93" could mean anything. Mooney had determined that these were markers used by the Vietnamese to give their position without referring to maps.

    The government claimed that Mooney could not discern whether 44 to 93 indicated movement North. Nor South, East or West for that matter. The government claimed that the markers could have been markers on any stretch of highway, including American highways.

    But the government fails to include in their synopsis that it was North Vietnamese who had talked about these markers and that they were in Vietnam, not America, and it just so happened to have coincided with the only shoot down of the day and coincided with the fact that the four back enders who, for whatever reason, were not found dead in the back end of that fuselage.

    Yes, ladies and gentlemen your tax dollars were spent on some person coming up with that explanation to show you how very incompetent Jerry Mooney was.

    Meanwhile, four American flier's are lost in the bickering over phonetics in an attempt to show that another American is incompetent. But it doesn't end there. Now that our government has spun a tale of incompetence, they have to offer an alternative explanation for the radio intercepts.

    Top Gun Comes Out

    Robert Destatte is no stranger to POW/MIA family members and activists. He has worked for the Department of Defense for years, spinning the number of POW/MIAs into as many accounted-for Americans as he can. He worked for Defense Intelligence Agencies Special POW/MIA Office clear through to what it has morphed into now, Defense POW Missing Personnel Office, ("DPMO"). He is senior management, although he has no one directly under his "command," if you will.

    During the 1991-1993 Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, he gave testimony that enraged the Co-Chair, Robert Smith [R-NH] to the point that Smith has referred Destatte to the Department of Justice to be investigated for possible perjury before Congress.

    The former Chairman of the House National Security Committee's Subcommittee on Military Personnel, Robert Dornan [R- CA], has vehemently demanded on several occasions for an investigation of Mr. Destatte.

    In April 1997 Dr. Timothy Castle, Chief SE Asia Archival Research, DPMO, was directed by [then] Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in charge of DPMO, General James Wold, to write a memorandum voicing Dr. Castle's concerns related to abuse at DPMO.

    Dr. Castle wrote a 12½ page memorandum and did not waste any time sugar coating the problem:
    "1. PURPOSE: This memo responds to your request for my recommendations on further pursuit of REFNO 2052 as well as my response to the undated REFNO 2052 ‘Position' and ‘Background' materials you have provided. Although these ‘Position' and ‘Background' papers were written anonymously, I was told that they were submitted by LtCol [Jeannie] Schiff and/or [Robert] Destatte. I will also comment on the materials which were faxed without DPMO approval by Mr. Destatte to Det 2, JTF-FA and the Vietnamese government on 13 February [1997]. Although I have been assured by [Tony] Liotta that this unauthorized conduct by LtCol Schiff and Mr. Destatte has been disavowed by the DPMO leadership in conversations with CDR JTF-FA, I believe it is important that this continuing extra official relationship (‘the old sergeant network') be examined. This is an issue which goes to the core of DPMO's credibility, long-standing efforts by Mr. Destatte (apparently with LtCol Schiffs approval) to surreptitiously pass information to Hanoi which impedes a fullest accounting of our missing Americans," wrote Dr. Castle in the opening paragraph of this 12½ page memorandum.

    The portion of Dr. Castle's memorandum appearing in bold (above) was done by me to emphasize what Dr. Castle, who worked side-by-side with Mr. Destatte, felt was wrong. . . not to mention illegal.

    Shell Game

    In the governments quest to show Jerry Mooney as incompetent, Robert Destatte decided to write a position paper on Baron 52. Claiming that the aircraft was ancient, the parachutes bulky, Destatte writes, "In order for four persons to have successfully bailed out of this aircraft, the aircraft would had to have remained in relatively stable flight for a minute or longer after the emergency occurred - ample time for the crew to have transmitted a distress signal."

    Mr. Destatte feels that the crew would have signaled a Mayday or distress call if they had been hit and aloft for more than a minute.

    I would venture a guess and state that the backenders would have immediately started preparing the ELINT equipment for jettison, relying on the front enders to radio in the Mayday. After jettisoning the equipment, they would have bailed out of a disabled aircraft relying on SAR to come get them.

    The front enders may have been too busy holding the aircraft aloft long enough to provide the backenders with the ability to jettison the equipment. The fact that three of the possible four bodies seen at the crash site were in their assigned areas demonstrates their valiant effort at keeping the aircraft aloft for as long as they could.

    They did report being fired upon a second time and in the absence of an "All Clear," it should have been assumed that they were in trouble.

    But those facts apparently allude Robert Destatte.
    "This pre-World War II aircraft," Destate writes, "was not equipped with ejection systems. The electronics specialists in the back of the plane did not wear parachutes while seated at their work stations. The parachutes were too bulky and hindered the men's ability to operate their equipment. In the event of an in-flight emergency that required them to bail out, they first had to don their parachutes. At least one crew member would have been responsible for releasing the door near the rear of the fuselage. Next, one at a time, each man would have to make his way back to the door and jump out. Meanwhile, the pilot and co-pilot would have remained at the controls trying to keep the aircraft in stable flight long enough for the back-enders to get out."

    He's right. It sure makes sense. But then, isn't that why the military trains its personnel over and over and over again, so that should an emergency arise they do not loose precious time figuring out what to do, but rely on the many, many training exercises that they had completed so that, in fact, training takes over when under extreme duress?

    Isn't what Destatte describes exactly what their training would have had them do?

    Wouldn't that explain why there were three, perhaps four, bodies in the forward compartment? Weren't the bodies there because they stayed in their positions to hold that aircraft aloft long enough for the backenders to do their jobs?

    With respect to the one with the responsibility for unlatching the rear door by the fuselage, how many of you reading this know that it was common practice by flight crews flying low altitude missions to unlatch those doors on the ground before take off? Sure you weren't supposed to, but it did happen and it was overlooked by controllers on the ground.

    As far as making ones way to the back of an aircraft that is about to fall from the sky, a minute is an awfully long time to move from point A to point B- - and survival. Jumping one at a time from a falling aircraft would not take a minute.

    During the Gulf War people donned entire germ warfare protection suits in under a minute with the understanding that taking any longer could mean the difference between life and death. Do you really think that because the chutes were bulky, those men could not get them on in seconds if the need arose?

    "The four persons mentioned in the [NSA radio intercept] message probably were four Lao irregulars that a PAVN unit picked up in the Highway 8 corridor in Laos and turned over to the 4 4th Provincial Infantry Battalion of Ha Tinh Province," opined Destatte.

    And the mystery is solved. The North Vietnamese didn't mean "pilots" or "pirates," they meant Lao irregulars and, of course, the capture of these four Lao irregulars would cause the Vietnamese to radio their command to request instructions.

    It makes perfect sense.

    With this "analysis," Destatte was able to play a shell game upon the families of the missing men and replace their loved ones with Lao irregulars without an iota of evidence indicating that Lao irregulars were even held that day. Certainly, more credible evidence suggests that the Americans had bailed out and had been captured, but that scenario does not fit in to the government's scheme of things.

    And their fate is sealed with the probable capture of the4 Loation irregulars. Not even the definte capture, but probable.

    When All Else Fails. . .identification

    In January and February 1993, twenty years after the downing of Baron 52, Americans from the JTF-FA, ("Joint Task Force-Full Accounting"), CIL-HI, ("Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii) and Lao Specialists excavated the Baron 52 crash site. They came up with 23 bone fragments, a half of a tooth and another piece of interesting ‘evidence." Pristine dog tags, resting near the site under a triple canopy jungle for 20 years with nary a sign of wear and tear.

    But. . . this was a sanitized mission, wasn't it? No US markings. Nothing to identify the aircraft, or the crew, as American.

    The half tooth was identified as one belonging to crewman and backender, Sgt. Peter Cressman. The dog tags belonged to Sgt. Joseph Matejov.

    With all the teeth that the US government finds, one must wonder if the tooth fairy is on payroll.

    CIL-HI could not discern stature, gender nor race from the 23 bone chips so the decision was made to make a "co-mingled remains" finding. This means that the government found enough evidence to claim all eight crewmembers had perished violating the Paris Peace Accords on a sanitized ELINT mission on the evening of 4th - 5th February 1973. And eight more people are accounted for and off the list of unaccounted-for Americans from SE Asia.

    The families were forced to accept the identification or else they would not be permitted to have the remains independently examined. In accepting the identification, it caused a rift between some of the family members. But it also does something else. It effectively cuts-off the families from the Casualty Offices and the families are denied permission to look at their loved ones files at the annual League of Families meetings in Washington. The League permits this, but that is yet another story.

    Robert Destatte and the spinmasters of Washington can play all the shell games that they want. One day the truth about this and other cases will come to light and then it will be known. I only hope that it happens in my lifetime. I know that I will continue to seek the answers and will continue to press the US government to keep them from sweeping this issue under the rug.

    If there is any doubt whatsoever that men were abandoned after the war and may have survived, the benefit of that doubt should rest with them. . . and not those that would write them off.

    Steve Golding,
    Executive Director
    PoW/MIA Forum

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