Name: Richard Lee Russell
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Air Force
Unit: TDY from Ching Chuang Kang Air Force Base, 
Taiwan to Detachment 1, 
345th Tactical Airlift Squadron T
an Son Nhut Airbase, South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 06 November 1946
Home of Record: Snyder, TX
Date of Loss: 26 April 1972
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 113803N 1063547E (XT745866)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: C130E "Hercules"
Other Personnel in Incident: Harry A. Amesbury, Jr.; Calvin E. Cooke; Richard E. Dunn; and Donald R. Hoskins (all missing); Kurt F. Weisman (remains returned)


SYNOPSIS:The Lockheed C130 Hercules, or "Herc" for short, was a multi-purpose propeller driven aircraft used as a transport, tanker, gunship, drone controller, airborne command and control center, weather reconnaissance and electronic reconnaissance platform; as well as search, rescue and recovery aircraft.  In the hands of the “Trash Haulers,” as the crew of the Tactical Air Command transports styled themselves, the C130 proved to be the most valuable airlift instrument in the Southeast Asia conflict.  They were so valuable, in fact, that Gen. William Momyer, 7th Air Force Commander, refused for a time to let them land at Khe Sanh when the airstrip was under fire from NVA troops surrounding the base.  The C130 was critical in resupplying American and allied troops in this area, and when the Hercules could not land, it delivered its payload by means of a parachute drop.

To bolster the Air Force’s ability to supply troops in Southeast Asia, aircrews stationed at Ching Chuang Kang Airbase, Taiwan - known also as “CCK Airdrome” - flew to different locations on 3-week temporary duty (TDY) rotations before returning to their home station for 3 days.  These TDY stints took them to Korea, Borneo, Indonesia, Japan and Africa; but most trips took them to bases in South Vietnam. 

Their supply drops were usually accomplished in one of two ways, both requiring the plane be airborne and at very low altitude when done.  One method employed parachutes attached to supply pallets.  As the plane flew over the drop zone, the parachutes pulled the cargo from the plane.  In the second method, a hook attached to the cargo was dropped from the plane, affixed to some firm fixture on the ground and as the plane departed the area, the cargo was pulled out of the plane. Both delivery methods required considerable skill under the best of circumstances to be completed successfully.

On 26 April 1972, Major Harry A. Amesbury, Jr., pilot; Capt. Kurt F. Weisman, co-pilot; then 1st Lt. Richard L. Russell, navigator; SSgt. Calvin C. Cooke, loadmaster; TSgt. Richard E. Dunn, loadmaster; and Sgt. Donald R. Hoskins, flight engineer; comprised the crew of a C130 that departed Tan Son Nhut Airbase on a night emergency resupply mission to the ARVN troops trapped in the besieged city of Anh Loc, Binh Long Province, South Vietnam. The provisional capitol located approximately 65 miles northwest of Saigon had been under siege off and on since early April by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces.  Airborne support in the form of supply drops of food, medicine and armament, as well as close air support, were critical in keeping the city from being overrun. 

After arriving in the target area, Major Amesbury established radio contact with the onsite Forward Air Controller (FAC).  After providing currant mission related information, at 0412 hours the FAC gave Major Amesbury clearance to initiate the supply drop.  As the C130 made its pass over Anh Loc at a very low altitude, the aircraft was struck by communist small arms fire and crashed into a large rubber plantation approximately 1 mile southwest of the city.  From his vantage point, the FAC watched as the cargo aircraft began its climb to drop altitude, then looked away.  When he looked back, he saw the Hercules in flames going into the trees.  He reported that under the circumstances, he saw no tracers aimed at the aircraft. 

In the pre-dawn darkness an aerial visual and electronic search utilizing all aircraft already in the area commenced immediately.  However, due to the intense enemy surrounding An Loc, no ground search of the crash site was possible.  During the search operation, no emergency beepers were heard and no parachutes seen.  At the time the search was terminated, Harry Amesbury, Richard Russell, Calvin Cooke, Donald Hoskins and Kurt Weisman were declared Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

In early February 1975, an ARVN ground team under the control of an American Special Forces advisor was inserted into An Loc to search for Americans lost in several incidents in the area including the crew of the C130.  While at that aircraft’s crash site, the team recovered partial remains believed to belong to one of the crew.  Before departing the area, the team made note of the fact that the entire crash site location had been heavily scavenged.  On 27 February 1975, those remains were positively identified as Kurt Weisman. 

Beginning in 1989, US personnel obtained the first of five separate acquisitions of remains and personal affects/artifacts associated with this loss incident.  These remains were recovered from refugees living in Thailand as well as local villagers.  Some were confiscated from unscrupulous bones brokers who thrive on the trade of human misery.  Others were found under the control of a group of people in Saigon.  In spite of being heavily scavenged, the crash site excavation yielded a remarkable amount of aircraft wreckage, life support equipment, personal items, bone fragments and teeth.

The first set of material attributed to this case was turned over by a South Vietnamese woman living in a refugee camp in Thailand who stated she witnessed the C130 crash at An Loc.  When interviewed, she said that as she prepared to leave Vietnam, she was given bones and an ID tag belonging to Harry Amesbury to take with her in the hope that the items would help smooth her way to a new life.

In November 1991, a Vietnamese man turned over remains he said he obtained from two other Vietnamese who collected them from the crash site.  He also claimed to have identification media that belonged to Major Amesbury, but it was not turned over with the bone fragments.

The third accession of remains surfaced in 1992 when an investigative team under the auspices of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) returned to Binh Long Province to conduct interviews with local residents regarding this and other losses in the region.  One villager reported he knew that several people held remains.  Eventually one of the villagers turned over several bones/bone fragments and an ID tag rubbing.  During this trip, team members also conducted a site survey to establish the perimeters of the crash site for later excavation.

In March 1993, a JTFFA excavation team returned to An Loc.  During the recovery operation, they found bone fragments and teeth in 9 different crater impact features that comprised the C130’s crash site that covered an area 96 meters long and 38 meters wide.  Two of the craters were located in the northern portion with the other seven being dispersed southward.  The last impact crater was located a distance of 80 meters away from the northern-most crater.  Further, all of these locations are adjoined to or within the 96X38 meter area.  The maximum depth excavated in any location of the site was 3 meters.

The last accession of remains occurred in February/March 1998.  In February a South Vietnamese woman living in Georgia contacted the National League of Families of POW/MIAs claiming she had remains and personal affects of Harry Amesbury.  In March she turned over the material to US personnel.  In addition to pieces of bone, she handed over Major Amesbury’s military ID card and his wedding ring. 

Over time all of the human remains and personal affects belonging to several crewmen were transported to the US Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) for examination.  In addition to 5 teeth that matched Major Amesbury’s dental radiographs; long bones including both arms, left leg and the femur from the right leg; along with very small pieces of cranium, were positively identified through mt-DNA as belonging to Harry Amesbury. 

At the family’s request, Major Amesbury’s remains were cremated and flown to Boise, Idaho on Sunday, 27 May 1991.  The following Tuesday, his asses were scattered by the family on land that overlooked the Snake River near Marsing purchased by Major Amesbury and his wife for their retirement.  When asked why the family chose to scatter his remains in that location, Harry Amesbury’s son, David, responded, “This is where he’d want to be.”

The rest of the bones and teeth recovered and associated with the Hercules’ loss remain under the control of CIL-Hi in the belief that one day technology will reach a stage where they also can be positively identified and returned to the families.

While the fate of Major Amesbury and Capt. Weisman is resolved and each man’s family has the peace of mind of knowing where their love one lies, only unanswered questions remain for the rest of the C130’s aircrew.  If they also died in their aircraft, they have a right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country.  However, if any of the crew survived, they most certainly would have been captured and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different.  Either way there is no doubt the Vietnamese could return them or their remains any time they had the desire to do so.

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 America Prisoners of War 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.