Name: William James Thompson 
Rank/Branch: Colonel/US Air Force
Unit: 389th Tactical Fighter Squadron 
DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 19 February 1933
Home of Record: Houston, TX
Date of Loss: 01 August 1968
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 172235N 1061310E (XE274203)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D "Phantom II"
Other Personnel in Incident: Joseph S. Ross (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 1 August 1968, then Lt. Col. William Thompson, aircraft commander, and 1st Lt. Joseph Ross, pilot, comprised the crew of an F4D, call sign "Coach 1", that was the lead aircraft in a flight of two. The flight departed DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam on a night armed reconnaissance mission over Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam.

Enroute to their assigned area, they were diverted by the command and control aircraft to check out suspected truck traffic in the vicinity of their original target. Coach 1 dropped several sets of illumination flares that allowed them to confirm that North Vietnamese truck traffic.

At 0310 hours, Lt. Col. Thompson told Coach 2, their wingman, to circle the area while he made a bombing pass on the trucks. As the wingman circled the area, he noted a large explosion within several hundred feet of the moving targets. The crew of Coach 2 immediately attempted to establish contact with Coach 1, but was unable to do so. In the darkness, the crew of Coach 2 saw no parachutes and heard no emergency beepers.

At daybreak an airborne command post monitored emergency electronic signals seemingly emanating from the crash site. Further search efforts could not establish the whereabouts or source of those signals. Likewise, they found no tract of the aircraft's wreckage. However, they did locate the flare chutes dropped by Coach 1 near their target. Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were terminated on 6 August and both William Thompson and Joseph Ross were immediately listed Missing in Action.

The intended targets were located 1500 meters west of B'an Katoi in the Xuan Son B ferry area and 47 kilometers south of the major North Vietnamese port city of Dong Hoi. The terrain is mountainous with peaks ranging from 3500-4000 feet and deep valleys covered in dense multiple canopy jungle. One search team member described the area of loss as comprised "of sharp pointed gray rock karsts in great frequency closely jammed up like the stalactites of a sound suppression chamber."

In January 1992, the Vietnamese government released a document entitled "Military Region 4 Air Defense Operations 1964-1973 - Document Entry Reports." In it is logged the shoot down of an F4 on 1 August 1968 in the Xuan Son B ferry area by Battalion A of Regiment 280. The date, aircraft type and location correlated to the loss of Coach 1. Unfortunately there is no reference to the fate of the Phantom's aircrew.

In September 1993, a joint survey team conducted an air survey of Coach 1's loss location, but the survey team was not able to identify any crash site in this hostile terrain. Another joint survey team returned in April 1995 to conduct a ground search. Again no crash site was located. The team next researched Communist records, but could find no reference to that aircraft crash. Further, no local residents interviewed by the team were aware of any crash sites in the area.

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 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.