Name: Norbert Anthony "Norb" Gotner
Rank/Branch: Major / US Air Force
Unit: 25th Tactical Fighter Squadron,
8th Tactical Fighter Wing,
Ubon RTAFB, Thailand
Date of Birth: 14 June 1935 (Kansas City, KS)
Home of Record: Kansas City, KS
Date of Loss: 03 February 1971
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 1717800N 1061030E (XE230120)
Click coordinates to view maps
Status in 1973: Returned Prisoner of War
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D “Phantom II”
Other Personnel In Incident: Robert L. Standerwick (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.

On 3 February 1973, Lt Col Robert L. "Bob" Standerwick, Aircraft Commander, and Maj Norbert A. "Norb" Gotner, Navigator; comprised the crew of a F4D (tail #66-8777 and named "Miss Magic"), call sign "Bigot 02," departed Ubon Airbase as the #2 aircraft in a flight of two on a morning sensor delivery mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail southwest of Ban Karai Pass. The sensors were 3-foot long cylinders some of which were designed to hang up in trees and pick up sound while others embedded in the ground and listened for the rumble of trucks. The sensors were rigged so acid was released to destroy the electronics inside if the casing was opened. The communists recovered one sensor and shipped it by truck to Hanoi for examination. Americans monitoring the sensor listened to the enemy troop's conversation during the trip before sending in an air strike to destroy it.

The mission area was located in rugged and heavily wooded mountains southwest of the Ban Karai Pass on and around Route 912, the major road through that pass, Savannakhet Province, Laos. This area of eastern Laos was considered a major gateway 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.

As the flight entered the target area, Bigot Lead checked in with the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control (ABCCC). After providing current mission information, the ABCCC handed the aircraft over to the onsite Forward Air Controller who would direct the sensor drop mission itself. Shortly thereafter, the FAC cleared Bigot flight into the target area. Bigot Lead initiated its run in for the sensor drop with Bigot 02 following in trail. At 1057 hours Bigot 02 was hit by intense and accurate 23mm Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) fire near the village of Ban Kantaloung located roughly 10 miles southwest of the Ban Karai Pass, and crashed in dense jungle approximately 3 miles south of the Laotian/North Vietnamese border and 3 miles southwest of Route 912 where it crossed through the pass itself.

Both Lt Col Standerwick and Maj Gotner safely ejected from their crippled jet landing 25 meters apart. Both men immediately established voice contact with each other as well as with other aircraft, but did not have visual contact with each other. Further, each man reported he was uninjured. Due to poor weather, and later impending darkness, search and rescue (SAR) operations were not immediately possible. However, aircrews maintained voice contact with both men while monitoring the developing situation on the ground. SAR operations began at first light on 4 February and continued into 5 February 1971. When no further contact could be established, SAR operations were suspended and Bob Standerwick and Norb Gotner were declared Missing in Action.

Maj Gotner eventually was captured by the NVA, and within hours moved to Hanoi for imprisonment. He was returned to US control on 28 March 1973. During his debriefing, Norb Gotner reported that some time before capture, he "heard several shots fired and then Bob Standerwick saying he was surround by enemy troops and was being shot at" followed by "I have been hit, I have been hit" before Bob Standerwick's radio went dead. About 30 seconds later Maj Gotner heard a human scream, but "could not tell if it was from Lt Col Standerwick or from an enemy soldier screaming in the jungle as they were known to do." Norb Gotner also reported he did not know who screamed, but believed it was a scream of pain.

From the debriefing notes: Maj Gotner stated that "during the evening of 5 February, about 4 hours after capture, he was shown a piece of paper with the name Standerwick clearly written on it. Below that, the name Allyson with a Y was written. It appeared like they wanted Maj Gotner to identify who he was flying with. The guards soon took away the paper and it was not seen again by Gotner. He never heard or saw the name Allyson again. On the same day of capture Maj Gotner was placed in a truck and driven for about 8 hours to North Vietnam. During this ride, Maj Gotner asked the guard if Lt Col Standerwick was okay. The guard shook his head no and pointed to his chest as if to indicate that Bob Standerwick had been shot in the chest."

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, 10 North Vietnamese radio messages were intercepted and correlated to this incident. The NSA synopsis states: " - Note; Shot down on sensor drop run. Voice contact established with both crewmen. Voice contact lost on 4 Feb with (Standerwick) underfire and hit at that time. Contact lost with Gotner on 7 Feb due to weak batteries. - Note; Numerous references to the capture of a Major (probably Gotner) and the capture and subsequent killing of a Lt Colonel (probably Sanderwick). - On the 3rd of February, Company 1 of the 123rd Battalion, two 23mm guns shot down an F-4 recon aircraft. The pilot parachuted down, and was shot and killed. Still in searching for one person. - 4 February, Binh Tram 14 shot down 5 aircraft and captured one more Major. They are now searching to capture many more of the pirate pilots. - …At 1122G on 3 February, Company 21, 123rd AAA Battalion, 224th AAA Regiment, ….battle with two artillery weapons expending 22 rounds. They shot down ( ) spot one F-4. The pilots parachuted down. One man was a Lieutenant Colonel. Our unit went out and captured….killed him but one man escaped and still searching for him. - on the 4th of February, BT-14 shot down 5 aircraft, and captured one American Major, and are in the midst of capturing many other pilots. - …killed one pilot. The units shot down one additional aircraft and have sent cells to search for the pilot. They coordinated and captured alive a pilot of the rank of Major. - From 16th AAA Bn; unit short down on the spot one F-4, ….six kilometers from the position. The pilot was killed. - ..5th of February 1971, brought down 5 aircraft, shot dead one LtCol, and captured one Major, who were all pilots."

There is no question the NVA were close enough to see and shoot at Bob Standerwick through the dense jungle. There is also no question he was wounded. The question is was he killed, seriously wounded or slightly wounded before capture. Also consider that scream heard 30 seconds after gunfire was heard and Lt Col Sanderwick's radio going dead. 30 seconds is a very long time to pass between one being shot and then screaming out in pain. Likewise, it is more plausible that that scream came from another person or that it was uttered by Bob Standerwick during capture.

Further, prior to this tour of duty with the 25th TFS, Bob Standerwick has been a Strategic Air Command (SAC) pilot flying EC-135 "Looking Glass" airborne command post aircraft. His training and experience certainly make him of a prime catch of great interest for the North Vietnamese as well as their Soviet alley once his identification and background became known.

If Bob Standerwick was killed during or after capture, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if Lt Col Standerwick was wounded, not killed as thought, his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. There are nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. 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 negotiation between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords which ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement. Either way there is no doubt the North Vietnam knows his fate and could return him or his remains anytime they chose.

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 and aircrews 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.

INorbert A. Gotner graduated from the University of Wichita in January 1958