|Name:||Robert Laverne Hill|
|Rank/Branch:||Chief Master Sergeant/US Air Force|
Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron
|Date of Birth:||25 September 1931|
|Home of Record:||Detroit, MI|
|Date of Loss:||18 October 1966|
|Country of Loss:||North Vietnam (Tonkin Gulf)|
|Loss Coordinates:||175500N 1070900E (YE278821)|
|Status in 1973:||Missing In Action|
|Other Personnel in Incident:||Inzar W. Rackley, Lawrence Clark, John R. Shoneck, Ralph H. Angstadt, Steven H. Adams, and John H.S. Long (all missing)|
REMARKS: RADIO CONTACT LOST
SYNOPSIS: The Grumman HU16 Albatross first appeared in the US Air Force inventory in 1949. It was a fix-wing amphibious aircraft capable of making vertical recoveries on land or over water, as well as water landings in daylight and mild sea conditions to rescue downed aircrews. By the end of 1965, it had saved 70 people, 60 of them combat crews. It was also used as a command and control aircraft coordinating multi-aircraft missions.
Beginning in 1966, the HU16's, along with other Air Rescue Services fixed-wing aircraft, were replaced by the Lockheed HC130 Hercules that was specifically tailored for the global search and rescue mission.
On 18 October 1966, Maj. Ralph H. Angstadt, pilot, Capt. John H.S. Long, co-pilot, Maj. Inzar W. Rackley, navigator, then TSgt. Robert L. Hill, flight mechanic; SSgt. John R. Shoneck, flight mechanic; AM1 Stephen H. Adams, parajumper; and SSgt. Lawrence Clark, radio operator; comprised the crew of an HU16 search and rescue (SAR) aircraft (serial #51-7145), call sign "Crown Bravo," carrying an elite Air Force pararescue team. The Albatross departed DaNang Air Base at 1101 hours to recover a downed pilot approximately 80 miles off the China coast in the northern sector of the Gulf of Tonkin.
Two A1E Skyhawks escorting the rescue aircraft remained on station providing air cover until the mission was completed, and then they returned to their base. The last contact with the HU16 was at 1745 hours, and at that time, there was no indication of any trouble with the aircraft. At 2231 hours, all contact was lost with the amphibious aircraft in marginal weather conditions. SAR efforts were immediately initiated, but found now trace of the missing aircraft or its crew. The last know position of the Albatross placed it right on the Asian Coastal Buffer Zone, approximately 38 miles east of the North Vietnamese coastline and 44 miles northeast of the major port city of Dong Hoi, Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam. At the time the formal search operation was terminated, all seven Americans on board were listed as Missing In Action. 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 rather than US. Interestingly, even though the HU16 was reported lost over water, which would indicate the men were not recoverable, several of the crew were carried in categories which indicated they could have been readily accounted for.
Approximately one year after the loss incident, Steve Adams' family received a call from an International Red Cross representative who stated that he was "alive, well and presumed to be in a hospital in Southeast Asia," and that "upon exiting the aircraft, his left side had been severely injured." Shortly after the call, two Air Force casualty officers cautioned the family strongly "not to listen to outsiders", and that only "government sources" could be trusted. Steve Adams' brother, Bruce said, "We have always hoped that what the Red Cross representative said is true. But the evidence is clear that there ARE Americans still held captive in Southeast Asia. I don't know if Steve is one of them, but SOMEONE'S brother is. We as a Nation owe those men our very best effort to secure their release and return. I could not face myself if I did not do everything in my power to help bring them home."
After Operation Homecoming in 1973, all returning POWs were debriefed by US intelligence. In addition to general intelligence material, they were looking for any information pertaining to other Prisoners of War known in captivity. Although there was no specific information provided about TSgt. Hill, US Army MSgt. Harvey G. Brande, who was repatriated on 16 March 1973, reported he personally observed John Long, the Albatross' co-pilot, as a prisoner held in Hanoi and that Capt. Long was in good physical condition. He further reported Capt. Long's full name was circulated in the camps and that the co-pilot was seen in Citadel, Holiday Inn and Vegas prisons by him. Additionally, Capt. Long was reportedly held with a group of POWs captured in Laos and moved into North Vietnam. John Long's post-capture photo also appeared in a photo album compiled by the United States of American POWs in captivity referred to as "Reference Volume 1." His photo appears on page 1-A-112."
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American POWs remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.