|Name:||Jose Manuel Astorga|
|Rank/Branch:||Specialist 4th Class/US Army|
37th Signal Battalion,
1st Signal Brigade
|Date of Birth:||28 August 1951|
|Home of Record:||Oakland, CA|
|Date of Loss:||02 April 1972|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
|Loss Coordinates:||165022N 1070455E (YD218628)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Returned Prisoner of War|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Ronald P. Paschall; John W. Frink and Byron K. Kulland (all missing),|
REMARKS: 730305 RELEASED BY PRG/INJURED
SYNOPSIS: By early 1967, the Bell UH1 Iroquois was already the standard Army assault helicopter, and was used in nearly every "in-country" mission. Better known by its nickname "Huey," the troop carriers were referred to as "slicks" and the gunships were called "Hogs." It proved itself to be a sturdy, versatile aircraft which was called on to carry out a wide variety of missions including search and rescue, close air support, insertion and extraction, fire support, and resupply to name a few. It usually carried a crew of four.
On the afternoon of 2 April 1972 an EB66E aircraft with a crew of 6, call sign "Bat 21", was shot down while on a pathfinder escort mission for a cell of B52s who were conducting a bombing mission near the DMZ. One member of that crew, Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton, was able to establish voice communication with other flight members almost immediately.
The location of loss was in the populated and hotly contested generally flat jungle approximately 1 mile north of Firebase Vandegrift, 2 miles north of Highway 9 and 5 miles west of Highway 1 with rugged mountains 4 miles to the west and open fields 2 miles to the east. It also placed the downed aircraft 6 miles northwest of Dong Ha, 12 miles south of the DMZ, 14 miles northwest of Quang Tri City and 20 miles northeast of Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.
A nearby Army search and rescue (SAR) team that consisted of two UH1H Huey slicks and two AH1G Cobra gunships was dispatched to attempt to rescue Col. Hambleton. The crew of one of the Huey's was comprised of 1Lt. Byron K. Kulland, pilot; WO John W. Frink, co-pilot; SP5 Ronald P. Paschall, crew chief; and SP4 Jose Astorga, door gunner.
The SAR aircraft approached the location where Iceal Hambleton was hiding just before dark. One of the gunships flew at 300 feet above the ground to provide air cover for the other helicopters that were flying at only 50 feet. Just after flying over some huts nestled near the tree line and over a clearing, the helicopters encountered heavy and accurate enemy ground fire. The result was two of the helicopters, one Cobra and one Huey, were shot down.
SAR efforts rapidly shifted gear to include searching for both downed helicopter crews. The two-man crew of the gunship, call sign "Blue Ghost 28," were able to successfully crash-land the Cobra and make their way to secure location nearby. Shortly thereafter, they made radio contact with other members of their flight and were rescued. During their debriefing, the gunship crew reported they never saw the other downed helicopter or any of its crew.
Other witnesses reported seeing the Huey trailing smoke as it descended toward the ground. Its burning wreckage was over flown by the remaining SAR aircraft. They attempted to make radio contact with the downed aircrew, but were not able to do so. As they hovered above the Huey to visually inspect it, they saw no trace of survivors in the wreckage or around the crash site. At the time this portion of the search operation was terminated, Byron Kulland, John Frink, Ronald Paschall and Jose Astorga were immediately listed Missing in Action.
SP4 Astorga was wounded by ground fire in the chest and knee, which caused him to loose consciousness. He came to after the aircraft crashed. According to the door gunner, Byron Kulland and John Frink were still strapped in their seats. WO Kulland was either unconscious or dead, and WO Frink was conscious, as was SP5 Paschall. All three crewmen were pinned inside the wreckage.
WO Frink threw two survival vests to Jose Astorga, told him to exit the aircraft and that everybody else would have to be left. Rather than leaving, SP4 Astorga worked as rapidly as possible within the limits of his own wounds to free Ronald Paschall, who was the easiest of the trapped men for him to reach. As communist troops moved closer to the crash site and began to open fire on Huey, the crewchief was freed.
As Jose Astorga began crawling away from the wreckage, he lost contact with Ronald Paschall. The helicopter was riddled by VC small arms and automatic weapons fire, caught fire and then exploded. SP4 Astorga was immediately captured and moved out of the area. He never learned whether or not Ronald Paschall was also captured or if he died at the crash site. On 5 March 1973, Jose Astorga returned to US control during Operation Homecoming.
Since January 1993,
field teams from the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) have
made several trips into South Vietnam in search of learning the fate of
Byron Kulland, John Frink and Ronald Paschall. On 11-12 January 1993,
during the 21st Joint
Field Activity (JFA), a local Vietnamese witness led the joint team to
isolated burial site a short distance from the alleged crash site. The
claimed he reburied remains unearthed in his garden some years earlier.
team excavated the isolated burial site and recovered some small bone
During this same JFA, the team surveyed the crash site itself for
excavation at a later day.
From 24 April through 3 May 1993, another JTFFA joint team returned to the previously surveyed site. This was during the 23rd TFA. In addition to excavating aircraft wreckage, the team recovered small bone fragments, a few teeth/partial teeth, 2 dogtags for WO Kulland, 1 dogtag for WO Frink and an aircraft data plate which exclusively correlated the crash site to this loss of these men.
On 15 September 1993, a local Vietnamese resident turned over a bone fragment to the Vietnamese Office for Missing Persons stating that he recovered it near the crash site. This bone, along with the rest of the fragments and teeth recovered from both the grave and crash site excavations, were transported to the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) for examination.
The examination revealed the single bone fragment turned in on 15 September was determined to be non-human. The rest of the bone fragments, some from a skull and others from other parts of the skeleton, were all too small to provide DNA material for testing. Of the teeth or fragments of teeth, only one was identifiable. It was John Frink's #30 molar. With the exception of the #30 molar, all the other remains were categorized as "group 1993-092-G-01." The final CIL-HI report stated, "No other biological determinations could be made from the remains."
For Ronald Paschall, John Frink and Byron Kulland, their families and friends have the piece of mind of knowing that all that could be done to recover their loved ones, has been done. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate could be quite different.
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 Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Military personnel in Vietnam were called upon to fly and fight 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.