Name: James Eugene Steadman
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Air Force
Unit: 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 
Ubon Airfield, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 18 February 1945 
Home of Record: Ft. Collins, CO
Date of Loss: 26 November 1971
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 162000N 1045800E (WC015965)
lick coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D "Phantom II"
Other Personnel in Incident: Robert D. Beutel (missing)


SYNOPSIS:   The McDonnell F4 Phantom used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings served a multitude of functions including fighter/bomber, interceptor, photo/electronic surveillance, and reconnaissance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2) and had a long range, 900 - 2300 miles depending on stores and mission type. The F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes. It was selected for a number of state-of-the-art electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.

On 26 November 1971, Capt. James E. "Jim" Steadman, pilot, and 1st Lt. Robert D. "Bob" Beutel, co-pilot, comprised the crew of an F4D, call sign "Owl 08," conducting a night Forward Air Controller (FAC) mission. Their intended flight path took them from Ubon Airfield, Thailand to the airborne tanker, into the target area, return to the tanker, then back to Ubon. The ordnance carried on this mission included flares and area type munitions for locating, illuminating and marking targets of opportunity on the route structures in eastern Laos. At 0245 hours, Owl 08 disconnected from the tanker, then crossed the Mekong River and entered the target area. At 0300 hours, Owl 08 arrived on station, switched to the tactical radio frequency to check in with Task Force Alpha control center, call sign "Headshed," and notified them they were changing to the working radio frequency. At that time, Headshed cleared them into the rugged and heavily wooded mountains that were southwest of the Ban Karai Pass, approximately 2 miles southeast of Ban Naphan and 4 miles east-southeast of Ban Nachik, Savannakhet Province, Laos.

This area of eastern Laos was considered a major gateway into the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. When North Vietnam began to increase its military strength in South Vietnam, NVA and Viet Cong troops again intruded on neutral Laos for sanctuary, as the Viet Minh had done during the war with the French some years before. This border road was used by the Communists to transport weapons, supplies and troops from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, and was frequently no more than a path cut through the jungle covered mountains. US forces used all assets available to them to stop this flow of men and supplies from moving south into the war zone.

At 0410 hours, the Ubon command post received the first indication that something was wrong with Owl 08 when Headshed called to inquire if the aircraft had landed with radio failure since they had had no further contact with them after their initial contact ended at 0302 hours. Other airfields were contacted to see if Owl 08 had diverted to one of them, but none had seen or heard from the missing aircrew, and at 0430 hours the aircraft was declared overdue.

Search and rescue (SAR) operations were initiated at first light. During the search, the weather conditions included broken cloud cover to overcast skies mixed with rain showers. Further, visibility in the prime search area varied from poor to none. The cloud bases were at 4,000 feet with moderate air turbulence below 10,000 feet. Unfortunately no contact with either crewman could be established, no emergency beepers were heard, and no wreckage was found by the SAR aircraft causing the organized search to be suspended on 3 December 1971. Both men were immediately listed Missing in Action.

Jim Steadman and Robert Beutel are among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Laotians admitted holding "tens of tens" of American Prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords which ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

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.

Fighter pilots in Vietnam and Laos 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.

            James E. Steadman graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1967.