Name: Gary A. Chavez 
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Air Force 
Unit: 14th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron,
432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing
Udorn Airfield, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 23 September 1943
Home of Record: New York, NY
Date of Loss: 30 July 1970 
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 151300N 1064900E (XB987810)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: RF4C "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: Donald A. Brown (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:  The F4 Phantom II, which was flown by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings, served a multitude of functions including fighter/bomber, interceptor, photo/electronic surveillance and reconnaissance. This two-man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2) and had a long range, 900 to 2300 miles depending on stores and type of mission. The F4 was also extremely maneuverable, and handled well at all 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.

Before midnight on 29 July 1970, Captain Gary A. Chavez, pilot; and then Captain Donald A. Brown, weapons systems officer; comprised the crew of an RF4C (serial #66-0436) that departed Udorn Airfield, Thailand on a night photographic reconnaissance mission over southern Laos.

When the Phantom arrived in the target area, Capt. Chavez established radio contact with the on-site Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC) controlling all air operations in the region. After providing them with currant mission information, the ABCCC handed the flight over to the Forward Air Controller (FAC) who would direct the rest of the mission. Shortly thereafter the FAC cleared Capt. Chavez and Capt. Brown in to begin photographing the target area. This included terrain that is exceptionally rugged, covered in jungle, sparsely populated by anyone other than communist forces, and much of which is uncharted. At the time of last contact, the Phantom's position was just east of the ridgeline that marks the beginning of the Plateau des Bolovens, approximately 25 miles north of Muang Fangdeng, Attopeu Province, Laos.

No undue concern was raised by the lack of radio and radar contact with Capt. Chavez and Capt. Brown until 0256 hours when the Phantom's estimated fuel would have been exhausted. A radio check of all military bases where the aircraft might have diverted was immediately begun. However, none were able to provide information about the missing aircraft or crew.

At first light on 30 July 1970, a full-scale search and rescue (SAR) operation commenced in the target area and along the briefed flight path. During the exhaustive search, no trace of the aircraft or its crew was found. At the time the search was terminated, Gary Chavez and Donald Brown were declared Missing in Action.

Donald Brown and Gary Chavez 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 that ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

If Capt. Chavez and Capt. Brown died in their loss incident, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, they could have been captured by enemy forces known to be operating throughout the region and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, 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 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.