|Name:||Thomas Earl Dunlop|
USS Coral Sea (CVA-43)
|Date of Birth:||10 July 1930|
|Home of Record:||Jacksonville, FL|
|Date of Loss:||06 April 1972|
|Country of Loss:||North Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||(none missing)|
SYNOPSIS: The A7 Corsair was the US Navy's single seat, light attack jet aircraft that featured advanced radar, navigation and weapons systems, and could carry a 15,000-pound bomb load. Nicknamed the "Sluf," the A7E with its more powerful TF-41 turbofan engine, was the most advanced version of the Corsair to fly combat missions in Southeast Asia. Its state-of-the-art weapons delivery computers made the Sluf's pilots' the best bombers in the fleet. The Corsair was also flown by Air Force and Marine air wings in Southeast Asia.
The North Vietnamese railroad system consisted of nine segments, the most important parts of which were north of the 20th parallel. Almost 80% of the major targets were in this area laced together by the rail system. The most important contribution of the system was to move the main fighting weapons from China to redistribution centers at Kep, Hanoi, Haiphong, Nam Dinh and Thanh Hoa. These supplies were further distributed by truck and boats to designated collection points, including Dong Hoi, where porters carried the weapons, food and ammunition on their final leg into the acknowledged war zone.
It was well known by later 1972 that the war was drawing to a close, and that the North Vietnamese were offering huge bonuses to anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) gunners who could shoot down American aircraft and capture the aircrews alive. At this stage in the war our enemy knew the more men they could capture, the better their chances were at the negotiating table to secure peace on their terms. Everyone knew the prisoners were worth much more alive than dead to both sides.
On 6 April 1972, Cmdr. Thomas E. Dunlop was the lead pilot in a section of two A7E aircraft (tail #NL-300, serial #157590) conducting an armed reconnaissance mission south of the major port city of Dong Hoi, Quang Binh Province, North Vietnam. The mission identifier was "Talley Ho," the region of North Vietnam from the coastline to the North Vietnamese/Lao border and from the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Vietnam, then 30 miles northward.
Upon reaching the North Vietnamese coastline, the Corsairs encountered heavy enemy anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire. Both pilots maneuvered into a strike formation and subsequently received an indication of a surface-to-air (SAM) missile launch south of their position. After the flight successfully evaded the SAM, they turned northwest to resume their mission.
During the maneuver, Cmdr. Dunlop sighted an enemy AAA gun emplacement to the northeast and he turned to engage that target. Again the flight received a sensor warning indication of a SAM missile launch, and once again when the pilots located the approaching missile, they maneuvered to avoid it. A second one was seen lifting off the ground seconds after the first. Cmdr. Dunlop turned hard left in a descending turn to avoid the first SAM. As the flight leader did so, his wingman observed the first missile make a direct hit on Cmdr. Dunlop's aircraft. The aircraft exploded in midair with the second missile detonating approximately 200 yards in front of the fireball.
From his position following behind the flight leader, the wingman witnessed the fireball and its burning debris fall to and impact the ground just north of a bend in the Kien Giang River. Further, as the wingman attempted to keep track of Cmdr. Dunlop's disintegrating aircraft, he encountered heavy enemy AAA fire forcing him to take decisive evasive action to avoid being shot down himself. In the chaos of battle, the wingman did not see a parachute leave the fireball, nor did he hear any emergency radio transmission from the downed pilot.
The area of loss was in a densely populated and heavily defended coastal plain just east of Highway 101 and the single-track railroad line that ran alongside it. East of Highway 101, rivers, canals and waterways laced through the countryside that was dotted with numerous villages and hamlets of all sizes. West of the road and railroad line, a forested area rapidly gave way to rugged jungle covered mountains. The crash site was located approximately 7 miles southwest of the coastline, 9 miles due south of Dong Hoi and 11 miles north of the DMZ. No search and rescue (SAR) attempt was possible due to the heavy enemy ground fire and the close proximity of NVA troops. Under the circumstances of loss, Thomas Dunlop was immediately listed Missing in Action.
On 8 April 1972, two days later, another aircraft operating in the same area in which Thomas Dunlop was lost, located and identified the ejection seat from Cmdr. Dunlop's Corsair some distance away from the rest of the aircraft's wreckage indicating that he had successfully ejected from his crippled aircraft.
In April 1973, one year after the last American to be released from captivity during Operation Homecoming, Thomas Dunlop's status was changed from Missing in Action to Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered under a Presumptive Finding of Death - the arbitrary legal status change from a living category of Missing in Action to a deceased one merely by the stroke of a pen.
In 1975, a member of the Vietnam People's Army (NVA) reported that on 6 April 1972, he observed an American airman being captured after landing in Quang Binh Province. The location and date closely correlated to Cmdr. Dunlop's shoot down and was the only aircraft downed that day in Quang Binh Province.
In April 1991 the US government released a list of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action who were known to be alive in enemy hands and for whom there is no evidence that he or she died in captivity. This list, commonly referred to today as the USG's "Last Known Alive" list, included Thomas Dunlop.
In 1992, a National Security Agency (NSA) correlation study of all communist radio intercepts pertaining to missing Americans, which was presented to the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in a classified format, was finally declassified and made public. According to this document, 4 North Vietnamese radio messages were intercepted and correlated to this incident. The NSA synopsis states: "Note; Loss attributed to SAM. An unidentified AAA site in the Dong Hoi area …. Shoot down of an F-8 at 0644z. The aircraft was reported down at Cua Tung (south of Dong Hoi). No …. Pilot status. Note; probably a case of mis-identification of an F-8 for the A-7 due to their extreme visual similarity. An element of the 267th SAM Regiment; launched two missiles at four aircraft. One of the aircraft burst into flames and the pilot bailed out. An element of the 267th SAM site …. Shooting down two aircraft. The pilot of one aircraft had already been rescued and a search party had been dispatched to attempt the capture of the second pilot."
On two occasions, once in June 1992 and the other in August 1994, members of the Joint Task Force - Full Accounting have traveled to Quang Binh Province to investigate this loss incident. Each time they were taken to different crash sites reportedly associated with Cmdr. Dunlop's Corsair. However, the results of these investigations were found to have no correlation to this incident, or to any other specific American loss.
If Thomas Dunlop died as a result of the shoot down of his aircraft, he has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he survived, he most certainly 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 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 American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Fighter pilots in Vietnam were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and were prepared to be wounded, killed, or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they proudly served.