Name: Michael Steel Confer 
Rank/Branch: Lieutenant Junior Grade/US Navy 
Unit: Attack Squadron 23 
USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) 
Date of Birth: 08 September 1942 (McCook, NE) 
Home of Record: Boulder, CO
Date of Loss: 10 October 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 201258N 1062800E (XH532359)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 5
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A4E "Skyhawk" 
Other Personnel In Incident: (none missing) 


SYNOPSIS: The Douglas A4 Skyhawk was a single-seat light attack jet flown by both land-based and carrier squadrons, and was the US Navy’s standard light attack aircraft at the outset of the war.  It was the only carrier-based aircraft that did not have folding wings as well as the only one that required a ladder for the pilot to enter/exit the cockpit.  The Skyhawk was used to fly a wide range of missions throughout Southeast Asia including close air support to American troops on the ground in South Vietnam.  Flying from a carrier was dangerous and as many aircraft were lost in “operational incidents” as in combat.

On 10 October 1966, LtJG Michael S. Confer was the pilot of an A4F Skyhawk that launched from the deck of the USS Coral Sea as the #2 aircraft in a section of two conducting a routine night road reconnaissance mission.  The briefed flight path covered a waterway system formed by the Song Hong Ha River, better known as the Red River, south of Hanoi, Nam Ha Province, North Vietnam.

The Red River Delta region was a large area roughly in the shape of a triangle and was a densely populated coastal plain laced with rivers, waterways and roads of all sizes crisscrossing it in all directions.  It was also dotted with villages, towns and cities throughout the area that supported a wide variety of industry, much of which was geared toward their war effort.  Rice fields flourished everywhere making the Red River delta the major food supplier for North Vietnam.

Near the end of the mission, Lead dropped flares over a pre-brief target located in the Red River Delta southeast of Hanoi near the coastline.  The target was well illuminated and LTJG Confer rolled into a dive to deliver rockets on the target.  Lead observed his wingman fire his rockets.  He also continued to watch in horror as Michael Confer did not pull out of his dive, but continued downward until he crashed into the very shallow water approximately ½ mile south of the shore.

The flight leader saw no ejection in the light of the flare before the aircraft impacted the water, nor did he see a parachute.  The flight leader initiated an immediate visual and electronic search for LTJG Confer and continued it until other aircraft arrived onsite to assist with the search and rescue (SAR) operation.  At no time were electronic emergency beeper signals heard emanating from the area of loss.  At the time the search effort was terminated, Michael Confer was listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

While the wingman’s description of the crash site being approximately ½ mile off shore, the loss location coordinates indicate the crash site was actually in a rice field just west of Kien Hanh village and roughly ½ mile north of the shoreline.  The confusion in determining whether the crash site location was over water or over land could be attributed to the chaos of battle at night with the aircraft crashing into a flooded rice field.  The reflection of flare light off the rice paddy water would look generally the same as the reflection off the shallow water just off shore.

During November 1993, a team of US investigators from the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) interviewed a witness who provided information concerning an A4 that was shot down by his militia on the night of 10 October 1966.  According to the witness, this aircraft exploded in the air and crashed at sea approximately 1 kilometer off shore.  Even though the witness indicated the A4 crashed off shore rather than in a flooded rice field, JTFFA personnel believed the information correlated to this aircraft loss. 

Further, analysis of documents found in the Military Region 3 Museum in Haiphong, North Vietnam by JTFFA personnel shows that LTJG Confer may have been shot down by the Giao Hai Village Militia, Xuan Thuy District, Nam Ha Province.  However, while JTFFA personnel found information pertaining to the shootdown of the Skyhawk, they did not find any information pertaining to the fate of the pilot either live or dead.

If Michael Confer died in the loss of his aircraft as indicated by the flight leader’s witness statement, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country if at all possible.  However, if he was able to eject and reach the ground safely, there is no doubt he would have been captured and his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different.  Either way there is no doubt the Vietnamese possess the answers and could return him or his remains any time they had the desire to do so.

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 in Vietnam 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.