BENSON, LEE DAVID

Name: Lee David Benson 
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant JG/US Naval Reserve 
Unit: Air Anti-Submarine Squadron 23
USS Yorktown (CVA-10) 

Date of Birth: 17 August 1943 (Oak Park, IL)
Home of Record: San Mateo, CA
Date of Loss: 17 March 1968 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam/Over Water 
Loss Coordinates: 191759N 1062269E (XG453344) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 5
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: S2E "Tracker"
Other Personnel In Incident: Thomas D. Barber, Donald R. Hubbs and Randall J. Nightingale (missing) 

REMARKS:  LOST O/W - SEARCH FAILED - J

SYNOPSIS:  The S2E Tracker patrol aircraft was originally designed as an antisubmarine warfare aircraft. Since few, if any, submarines saw action during the Vietnam War, these aircraft were used successfully to fly "Market Time" sorties searching for people and supplies being moved south by the enemy along the 1,000 mile Vietnamese coastline.

On 17 March 1968, Cmdr. Donald R. Hubbs, pilot; Lt. JG Lee D. Benson, co-pilot; AN Thomas D. Barber, reciprocating engine mechanic; and AX2 Randall J. Nightingale, ASW technician, comprised the crew of an S2E aircraft. At 2100 hours the flight launched from the deck of the USS Yorktown on a five-hour surface/sub-surface surveillance flight over the Gulf of Tonkin. Their call sign during this mission was "Abilene 10."

Following take-off, Cmdr. Hubbs radioed "mission able," meaning everything was all right, and continued on the mission. Approximately 40 minutes later the aircraft reported "ops normal" with seven hours of fuel remaining. Between 55 and 60 minutes after launch, the shipboard controller noticed that he had lost radar contact with Abilene 10. The last radar image was approximately 61 miles from the Yorktown, 35 miles due east of a cluster of small islands known as Hon Nghi Son, and 41 miles due east of mainland North Vietnam. This was also 55 miles southeast of Thanh Hoa and 67 miles northeast of Vinh.

Following the loss of radar contact and communication with Abilene 10 by Yorktown, every effort was made to reestablish contact. At the same time, other aircraft in the air were vectored to the general area of Abilene 10's last known position to conduct an immediate visual search of the suspected area of loss. Once it was determined the aircraft was probably lost, all four men aboard Abilene 10 were initially listed Missing in Action. When no sighting was made during the immediate examination of the area of last contact, a full search and rescue operation was initiated.

During the next four days, Yorktown aircraft visually searched the loss area for any sign of the aircraft and its crew. On 20 March, one of the SAR aircraft spotted a small amount of aircraft wreckage and successfully recovered it in the vicinity of the Tracker's last known position. Later this wreckage was positively correlated to an S2E aircraft.

Under the conditions of Abilene 10's loss, the Navy began changing the status of each of the aircrew from missing to Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered. Thomas D. Barber was the first to have his status changed on 18 March 1968. The second was Lee D. Benson on 21 March 1968. Donald R. Hubbs and Randall J. Nightingale both had their status changed on 12 July 1968.

On 20 July 1968, a sizable section of the starboard wing from the S2E was unexpectedly found. No other sign of the aircraft or its crew was ever discovered. Further, the US Navy was never able to determine if the aircraft developed mechanical problems or if it was brought down by enemy fire.

While Donald Hubbs, Randall Nightingale, Lee Benton and Thomas Barber undoubtedly perished in the crash of their aircraft at sea, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country if at all possible. 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 America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews 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.