Name: Joseph Ygnacio "Joe" Echanis e002p
Rank/Branch: Major/US Air Force
Unit: 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron
Ubon Airbase, Thailand

Date of Birth: 06 October 1937 (Ontario, OR)
Home of Record: Portland, OR
Date of Loss: 05 November 1969
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 172800N 1053900E (WE725422)
Click coordinates to view maps

Staus in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: Douglas P. LeFever (missing)


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

The Mu Gia Pass was one of the two major ports of entry from North Vietnam into 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.

On 5 November 1969, Capt. Douglas P. LeFever, pilot; and then Capt. Joseph Y. Echanis, navigator; comprised the crew of an F4D (tail #66-7748), call sign "Owl 15," conducting a Forward Air Control (FAC) mission. They were directing multiple flights of Navy attack aircraft. The mission identifier was Steel Tiger and the target area included the area of eastern Laos from the Mu Gia Pass west along Route 12.

Their intended flight path was from Ubon Airfield, Thailand to the airborne tanker, into the target area, return to the tanker, then back to Ubon. The ordnance carried on this mission included flares and area type munitions for locating, illuminating and marking targets of opportunity on the route structures in eastern Laos. The weather conditions in the target area consisted of 10,000-foot high broken to overcast clouds with their base at 4,000 feet. Visibility was 5 to 7 miles below the clouds with possible light turbulence due to strong winds. There was one hole in the clouds where the mission was taking place.

At 0303 hours, Owl 15 departed Ubon Airbase and proceeded to rendezvous with the airborne tanker before initiating its mission to direct the first of four sections of Navy aircraft against a pre-briefed target located approximately 7 miles southwest of Mu Gia Pass. At approximately 0515 hours, the last of the Navy's 2-aircraft flights, call sign "Street Car 302 and 304," arrived on station. They were told to hold high at 16,000 feet until he finished working the third pair of aircraft, call sign "Raygun."

After Raygun flight departed the area, Owl 15 told Lt. Cmdr. Vosseller, the pilot of Street Car 302; and his wingman, Lt. McClelland, Street Car 304; that he wanted to work them one at a time. Street Car 304 was again told to hold high. Street Car 302 proceeded with lights out to about 12,000 feet while Owl 15 dropped two or three flares then proceeded to mark the target from an altitude of 9,500 feet. Owl 15 also warned Street Car 302 to stay above his altitude. Lt. Cmdr. Vosseller observed Owl 15 pass underneath him and pass through a shelf of clouds at approximately 10,000 feet.

At 0536 hours, Lt. Cmdr. Vosseller was looking to his left waiting for Owl 15's smoke rocket to impact the target area when he heard a Mayday call just before seeing an explosion directly beneath him and slightly to his right. Two other aircraft operating nearby also heard the Mayday call.

Lt. Cmdr. Vosseller immediately radioed his wingman who also saw the clouds below him light up. Lt. Cmdr. McClelland said, "Tom, did you see that?" Street Car 302 replied, "affirmative, Mac." Lt. Cmdr. Vosseller attempted to contact Owl 15, but received no reply from either Capt. LeFever or Capt. Echanis. Believing that Owl 15 crashed, Street Car 302 radioed Invert, the ground control center, for search and rescue (SAR) aircraft to initiate a formal search, then both Street Car aircraft began making runs underneath the clouds in an effort to identify the location of the crash site.

During their immediate search effort, Street Car flight found no wreckage or fires on the ground. They also saw no parachutes and heard no emergency beepers. In addition, they observed no hostile ground fire before, during or after the loss of Owl 15. At 0545 to 0550 hours, the first SAR aircraft to arrive in site was Candlestick 43, a flair ship capable of illuminating the area for the other aircraft. Candlestick 43 immediately assumed operational control of the SAR operation allowing Street Car 302 and 304, who where both running low in fuel, to return to the USS Coral Sea.

Formal SAR operations continued throughout the day. After finding no trace of Capt. LeFever, Capt. Echanis or their aircraft, these efforts were terminated at 1800 hours the same day. At the time the search effort was terminated, Douglas LeFever and Joseph Echanis were immediately listed Missing in Action.

The area in which Owl 15 disappeared was along Route 12 and just east of Binh Tram 12, an established way station the communists used for a variety of purposes including vehicle maintenance, storage and supply, etc. It was also 3 miles west of where Route 12 intersected Route 23 and 9 miles southwest of Mu Gia Pass, Khammouane Province, Laos.

Route 12 ran east-west through a very narrow jungle covered valley on the north edge of a mountain range. A river ran through the center of the valley that is generally no wider than 2 miles at any point. Route 23 ran south from Mu Gia Pass through a series of loosely connected valleys of various sizes located in the mountains to the east of the Lao/North Vietnamese border.

Douglas LeFever and Joe Echanis ware among nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Lao 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 the Paris Peace Accords since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

If the crew of Owl 15 died in the loss of their Phantom, they have a right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country. However, if Capt. LeFever and Capt. Echanis were able to eject their aircraft, they most certainly could have been captured and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for, could be quite different.

Since the end of the Vietnam War, 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 and Laos 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 so proudly served.

Joseph Y. Echanis graduated from the University of Portland in 1959.