Name: Stephen Chavira
Rank/Branch: Sergeant/US Army
Unit: Company B, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry, 
101st Airborne Division 

Date of Birth: 10 March 1943 (Bakersfield, CA)
Home of Record: Wasco, CA
Date of Loss: 28 May 1971
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 162100N 1070818E (YD284087) 
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: OH6A "Cayuse"

Other Personnel in Incident: Paul D. Urquhart (missing)


SYNOPSIS:   The Hughes OH6A Cayuse was known by the troops by its nickname "Loach" - a derivative of "light observation helicopter." The armed OH6A was the primary scout helicopter used in Vietnam and usually carried a crew of two. The pilot controlled a mini-gun and a gunner/crew chief handled a "free 60" machine gun, among other weapons, which was attached to the aircraft by a strap. The Loach crews flew the most dangerous missions assigned to Army aviators because they flew low and usually slow enough to get a good look at the ground making them easy targets for the enemy.

On 28 May 1971, Capt. Paul D. Urquhart, pilot, and Sgt. Stephen Chavira, gunner, comprised the crew of an OH6A helicopter on a visual reconnaissance mission. Their area of operation included the extremely rugged jungle covered mountains between the South Vietnamese/Lao border and the northern most portion of the infamous A Shau Valley, Thua Thin Province, South Vietnam. This area also included a primary gateway from the equally notorious Ho Chi Minh Trail into strategic sections of northern South Vietnam. 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, 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.
,p>The Loach and a UH1A Huey helicopter were operating as a two-aircraft "Hunter" team for a pair of UH1C Huey gunships operating as the "Killer" team conducting a "Hunter-Killer" mission against communist activity in the area. The hunter aircraft were flying at an altitude of approximately 30 feet when one of the killer gunship aircraft commanders saw an enemy rocket propelled grenade round strike the Loach. The shell exploded causing the tail boom to bend in half and the helicopter to go out of control. It then exploded into flames, crashed and continued to burn on the top of a small knoll located in the rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 2 miles northeast of the South Vietnamese/Lao border and the same distance southwest of a primary road leading from the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This road ran east/west from the border eastward to a point near the northern tip of the A Shau Valley. It then turned south-southeast running along the full length of the east side of the dense jungle covered valley.

The burning wreckage cleared an area about 25 meters around the crash site thus permitting a clear view of the downed aircraft by other aircrews. Witnesses reported seeing no one thrown clear of the wreckage and saw no survivors on the ground after the crash. Because of the extreme hostile threat in the area, no ground search was possible. Likewise, because of the circumstances surrounding this loss, and at the time the visual search conducted by the other aircraft on this mission was terminated, Paul Urquhart and Stephen Chavira were immediately listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

On 7 June 1971, another aerial reconnaissance of the crash site and surrounding area was conducted in the hope that some trace of Capt. Urquhart and Sgt. Chavira could be found. Unfortunately, no sign of survivors or the bodies of the two missing crewmen were seen from the air. Continuous enemy activity in the area once again prevented a ground team from being inserted into the crash site to investigate it more thoroughly.

While Capt. Paul Urquhart and Sgt. Stephen Chavira probably perished in the crash of their helicopter, no one knows for sure. If they perished in this loss incident, they have the right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and the country they so proudly served. However, if they managed to survive, 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.

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