|Name:||Michael John Estocin|
USS TICONDEROGA (CVA-14)
|Date of Birth:||27 April 1931|
|Home of Record:||Turtle Creek, PA|
|Date of Loss:||26 April 1967|
|Country of Loss:||North Vietnam|
|Loss Coordinates:||204258N 1070257E (YH134919)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps
|Status in 1973:||Prisoner of War|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||(none missing)|
SYNOPSIS:The Douglas A4 Skyhawk was the US Navy's single-seat light attack jet. 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.
On 20 April 1967, 6 days before the mission in which he was shot down, then Lt. Cmdr. Michael J. Estocin flew the lead aircraft in a section of 3 A4E's from the aircraft carrier USS TICONDEROGA that was operating off Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin. His section of aircraft was conducting a SAM suppression mission in support of a coordinated air strike against two thermal power plants located in the major port city of Haiphong, North Vietnam. During the operation, Michael Estocin provided warnings to the strike group leaders of the surface-to-air missile (SAM) threats, and personally neutralized 3 SAM sites himself.
During the 20 April mission, Lt. Cmdr. Estocin's aircraft was severely damaged by an exploding missile. In spite of the fact that his Skyhawk sustained severe battle damage, Mike Estocin reentered the target area and prosecuted a SHRIKE attack to suppress the enemy's radar amidst intense anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire. He finally left the target area with less than 5 minutes of fuel remaining and commenced in-flight refueling from an airborne tanker. Under the circumstances, this was a dangerous procedure that continued for over 100 miles. Michael Estocin separated from the tanker just before initiating his landing approach to the USS Ticonderoga.
On 26 April, Lt. Cmdr. Estocin again flew the lead aircraft in a section of Skyhawks conducting a SAM suppression mission for another combined mission over Haiphong. This time their target was the enemy's fuel facilities located there. During the mission, his aircraft was struck by shrapnel from an exploding SAM and became engulfed in flames. He called "I'm hit," and his wingman, John B. Nichols, informed him that he was trailing fuel and was on fire. Lt. Cmdr. Estocin's aircraft was observed to recover after four to five uncontrolled rolls. He turned his crippled aircraft toward the east in an attempt to reach the sea.
John Nichols checked the section leader's aircraft to evaluate the extent of the battle damage it sustained and noted the cockpit area was undamaged by the missile. He also visually checked the condition of the pilot. According to his wingman, Lt. Cmdr. Estocin was sitting erect, was uninjured and appeared to be in control of his aircraft. As he crossed the coastline, Michael Estocin radioed, "I'm going down, switch to channel 5," which was the search and rescue (SAR) frequency.
As the A4E passed an altitude of 6,000 feet, it again commenced a series of uncontrolled rolls. It stabilized in the inverted position and continued to descend in a 10-15 degree dive. Lt. Cmdr. Estocin jettisoned his remaining ordnance in a normal mode, then his wingman observed the aircraft enter a 3,500 foot cloud layer still in the inverted position. Because of the cloud cover, Lt. Cmdr. Estocin's ejection sequence was not observed.
The cluster of offshore islands in the vicinity where the Skyhawk was last seen are sparsely populated and densely covered with foliage. Da Cat Ba Island itself is approximating 8 miles in width and the same in length and is generally round in shape. There are dozens of tiny islands surrounding the primary island and all are within ¼ of a mile to 4 miles away. At the southern edge of Da Cat Ba Island and roughly ½ mile to the south of it, is where Michael Estocin's aircraft crashed. The location of loss was also approximately 15 miles east of mainland North Vietnam, 20 miles east-southeast of Haiphong Cat Bi MiG base and 23 miles east-southeast of the town of Haiphong.
Once the weather cleared later that day, both electronic and visual searches were initiated and continued until dark. At first light the next morning search efforts resumed, but no sign of the pilot or his aircraft was found. Michael Estocin was immediately listed Missing in Action.
On 26 and 27 April, during the same time frame search and rescue efforts were underway using all air assets available to them, Radio Hanoi broadcast information indicating that Lt. Cmdr. Estocin may have been captured.
On 29 April, a People's Army newspaper article referred to the shoot down of an aircraft and a rescue helicopter coming to rescue the downed pilot. This report, along with the others received over the previous few days, was placed in Lt. Cmdr. Estocin's file as a possible correlation to his case.
Shortly thereafter very sensitive US intelligence sources reported that he was, in fact, a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam and his status was upgraded from Missing in Action to Prisoner of War accordingly.
Throughout the war Michael Estocin's family wrote letters and sent packages to him, which the International Red Cross attempted to deliver. In August 1972, a package sent by his sister was returned to her. While nothing was removed from the package, several things were added to it through a small slit that had been made in it. Added to the box was a crudely cut, hand-sewn felt bootie with two "M's" cut out of felt on it - Michael's wife's name is Maria. Also inside the bootie were three hearts - the Estocin's have three children.
Neither the Navy nor the intelligence community had an explanation of how these items could have been included in the package. However, Michael Estocin's family believes the answer is quite simple: he not only made them, but somehow he was able to slip them into the box, and he did so in an attempt to confirm his status as a prisoner of the communists.
In July 1990, intelligence information was received from a North Vietnamese refugee about an aircraft shoot down which he said occurred in 1967 near Da Cat Ba Island. According to the refugee, remains of an unidentified American were reportedly found in the water near the crash site. He also claimed that skeletal remains were reportedly seized by Vietnamese officials from a refugee boat captured near Da Cat Ba Island in February 1989.
In March 1991, US investigators assigned to the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) in Vietnam visited Da Cat Ba Island, but were unable to develop any information themselves regarding this loss incident. Vietnamese officials told the JTFFA members that Lt. Cmdr. Estocin was believed to have been downed 20 nautical miles off Da Cat Ba Island. Other sketchy hearsay reports were received of a body washing up along the shore to the north of the island.
John B. Nichols made a career of the US Navy and retired as a Commander. After retiring from the Navy, Cmdr. Nichols wrote "On Yankee Station" in which he recounted his wartime experiences, including the shootdown of Michael Estocin's aircraft. As Lt. Cmdr. Estocin's wingman during the 26 April 1967 mission, he followed his flight leader through the clouds and saw the Skyhawk crash into the Tonkin Gulf. The official location of loss is the one reported by Cmdr. Nichols, and that loss location is the one approximately ½ mile south of Da Cat Ba Island among, and much closer to, other small islands.
There is no question that either alive or dead the Vietnamese know exactly what happened to Lt. Cmdr. Estocin and they could return him or his remains any time they had the desire to do so. Michael Estocin's fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for, could be quite different then the one portrayed by both governments today.
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia TODAY.
Fighter pilots were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances as demonstrated by Lt. Cmdr. Estocin; 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.
Michael John Estocin was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty for the missions he flew on 20 and 26 April 1967 against Haiphong thermal power plants and fuel facilities.