|Name:||Thomas Wayne Dugan|
|Rank/Branch:||Colonel/US Air Force|
|Unit:||8th Tactical Bombardment Squadron,
35th Tactical Fighter Wing
Phan Rang Airbase, South Vietnam
|Date of Birth:||09 April 1947|
|Home of Record:||Reading, PA|
|Date of Loss:||13 December 1968|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
170100N 1055900E (XD055824)
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing In Action|
|Other Personnel in Incident:||Francis J. McGouldrick (missing)|
SYNOPSIS: The B57 Canberra was a light tactical bomber that played a varied role in the Vietnam conflict. A veteran of operations Rolling Thunder and Steel Tiger, B57's from the 8th Tactical Bombing Squadron at Phan Rang, South Vietnam had also been equipped with infrared sensors for night strike operations in Tropic Moon II and III in the spring of 1967.
On 13 December 1968, then Major Thomas W. Dugan, pilot; and Major Francis J. McGouldrick, co-pilot; comprised the crew of a B57B Canberra, call sign "Yellowbird 72." Their night bombing mission was being guided by a C123K Provider, call sign "Candlestick 44," operating as the on site Forward Air Controller (FAC) and whose mission it was to direct the bombers against a convoy of enemy trucks traveling along Routes 911 and 912. These routes were cut through the rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 2 miles north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), 14 miles northwest of Ban Namm, 18 miles southwest of Ban Loboy, 35 miles northwest of Muang Xepon and 26 miles southwest of the Lao/North Vietnamese border, Savannakhet Province, Laos. Additional data places the loss approximately 47 kilometers northwest of Xepon, 3 kilometers east of Ban Kok Nak and Route 411, and 1 kilometer southeast of Ban Pa Dong.
This area of eastern Laos was considered a major artery of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail. 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.
Candlestick 44's crew was comprised of 1st Lt. Thomas M. Turner, pilot; 1st Lt. Joseph P. Fanning, co-pilot; 1st Lt. John S. Albright, II, navigator; 1st Lt. Morgan J. Donahue, navigator; SSgt. Douglas V. Dailey, flight engineer; TSgt. Fred L. Clarke, loadmaster and SSgt. Samuel F. Walker, Jr., loadmaster.
Flying at an altitude of no more than 2000-3000 feet, the Provider crew's mission was to spot enemy truck convoys traveling along the trail, then to drop flares to illuminate the area for the accompanying bombers to attack. Weather conditions at the time were clear with a half moon, ground fog, no wind and no cloud ceiling. At 0300 hours, as the crew of the C123K guided the B57B onto an enemy convoy, the FAC was jolted by a blow to the top of their aircraft in the aft section by the overhead bomber as it approached the target. Candlestick 44's pilot, 1st Lt. Turner was stunned by a blow to the head and lost consciousness as his aircraft lost power. Because of its glider configuration, the C123K did not fall straight to the ground, but drifted lazily in a slow flat spin that lasted several minutes.
During his post-rescue debriefing, Thomas Turner reported: "Yellowbird 72 made either one or two passes over the target and received no ground fire while Candlestick 44 maintained position in our quadrant at altitude. While the bomber conducted its strikes, I began a run to our left in order to stay in our own quadrant, yet be able to scope to clear the previous strike (to observe the bomber's attack pass and its pull off of the target). Just as we rolled out straight and level, I looked out the window and saw the strike area. The next moment there was an explosion and the aircraft was out of control. I was knocked unconscious for several moments. When I came to, I turned in my seat and could see the co-pilot's seat was empty and fire was coming into the cockpit from the fuselage area. I turned to the left and opened the window, then unbuckled my seatbelt. I looked out at the wing tip and could see the wing tip and that the left engine was still running. The next minute I was out and clear of the aircraft. I pulled the "D" ring when clear to deploy my parachute. On my descent I saw another parachute below me and 2 or 3 fires on the ground. At that time I was unaware of the other aircraft's fall, and didn't know if it was one of the fires on the ground or not." 1st Lt. Turner went on to say: "I landed safely in a treetop where I remained until search and rescue (SAR) personnel rescued me at dawn. I did not hear any of the other crewmen come up on the radio, and I understand that the only beeper the SAR aircraft heard was mine."
Members of other aircrews provided additional information about this loss incident. One witness stated he saw a steady stream of enemy anti-aircraft artillery fire aimed in the direction of the aircraft just before the large explosion caused by the collision. Several other witnesses reported there was a large explosion that broke the aircraft into three parts shortly after the initial explosion.
After plucking Thomas Turner out of the tree, aerial SAR personnel continued to search for the other crewmen in the rugged jungle covered mountains. Because this area was under total enemy control, no ground search was possible. At 0900 hours on 15 December, the formal SAR effort was terminated when no trace of the remaining crew could be found. At that time Thomas Dugan and Francis McGouldrick were listed Missing in Action. Likewise, no trace of the C123K crew was found and they were also declared Missing in Action at the same time.
Over the years numerous reports filtered through the intelligence community regarding the crews of the Canberra and the Provider including National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted enemy radio communications correlated to at least 3 of the missing men. In 1974 a Laotian refugee who escaped reported having observed an American prisoner thought to have been a member of this aircrew who had been moved to the caves near Tchepone where he was held during the 1968 to 1970 timeframe. This American was later transferred to another location unknown to the refugee.
Thomas Dugan and Francis McGouldrick are among the nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Like this aircrew, 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 negotiations between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords that ended the Vietnam War since the Laotians were not a party to that agreement.
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 American POWs remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Aircrews 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.