Name: Robert Wayne Burnes 
Rank/Branch: First Lieutenant/US Marine Corps 
Unit: HAMS 11, Marine Air Group 11, 
1ST Marine Air Wing 
DaNang Airfield, South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 27 January 1941 (Rush Springs, OK) 
Home of Record: Edmond, OK
Date of Loss: 05 January 1970 
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 164658N 1060459E (XD177594) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4B "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: Larry W. Robinson (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.

Larry W. Robinson had officially completed his 100 missions prior to the 1969 Christmas truce. As he prepared to return home, a friend asked him to take his place on the flight schedule during the first series of operational missions after the Christmas Holiday cease-fire was terminated.

The Mu Gia Pass was considered a major gateway into the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail and ran in a generally southeasterly direction through eastern Laos and the South Vietnam border at a point approximately 13 miles west of Khe Sanh. 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. It 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.

On 5 January 1970, Major Larry Robinson, pilot, and 1st Lt. Robert W. Burnes, radar intercept officer, comprised the crew of the lead F4B (aircraft #152281) in a multi-aircraft flight. They were conducting a strike mission over central Laos to attack an enemy position located along a primary artery of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Major Robinson notified other flight members he was rolling in to attack the assigned target. During its pass, the Phantom was hit by hostile ground fire, crashed and burned. The aircraft wreckage was located in a very rugged jungle covered and very narrow valley between two mountain ranges just east of the primary road. The area of loss was approximately 5 miles east-southeast of Ban Namm, 20 miles northwest of Muang Xepon, 30 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border, and 63 miles south-southeast of the Mu Gia Pass, Savannakhet Province, Laos.

Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were initiated immediately. During the search no parachutes were seen, no emergency beepers heard, and no trace of either crewman found. Because of the heavy enemy presence in the area, no ground search was possible. Both Robert Burnes and Larry Robinson were immediately listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

On 27 January 1970, US intelligence agencies intercepted at least three NVA radio messages pertaining to the shootdown of this F4 by the NVA's 14th Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) Battalion, Binh Tram (way station) 34. Unfortunately, none of these messages made reference to the fate of Larry Robinson and Robert Burnes, either alive or dead. The crash site was also located approximately 1 mile north of Binh Tram 34.

Robert Burnes and Larry Robinson 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.

If Major Robinson and 1st Lt. Burnes died in the loss of their aircraft, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. On the other hand, if they we able to eject their crippled Phantom, they most certainly would have been captured by the same NVA troops located in and around the way station. If so, their fate like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for, 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.

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.