|Name:||Wayne Charles Irsch|
|Rank/Branch:||Captain/US Air Force|
Ubon Airbase, Thailand
|Date of Birth:||25 April 1942|
|Home of Record:||Tulsa, OK|
|Date of Loss:||09 January 1968|
|Country of Loss:||Laos|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground:||F4D "Phantom II"|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Norman M. Green (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 Ban Karai Pass was one of two major ports of entry from North Vietnam into the 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 9 June 1968, Lt. Col. Norman M. Green, aircraft commander; and then 1st Lt. Wayne C. Irsch, pilot; comprised the crew of an F4D (aircraft #66-8729), call sign "Crow 02," that departed Ubon Airbase as the #2 aircraft in a flight of two. The flight was conducting a night Lamp Lighter mission over the Steel Tiger sector of Laos to interdict NVA activity along the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Crow 01 was armed with Mk. 24 flares and support ordnance. Crow 02 was the primary strike aircraft. Darkness allowed the flight to operate at lower altitudes with a certain margin of immunity from enemy gunners; ECM pods helped negate the radar-guided anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). The weather conditions included a clear sky and visibility of approximately 5 miles.
Crow flight arrived in the target area, checked in with the onsite Forward Air Controller (FAC), then both Phantom's made a fuel check. Afterward, the FAC directed Crow 01 to attack a column of trucks traveling south on Highway 19 because the FAC was receiving fire from them. After making two attack passes firing his centerline 20mm cannon at the trucks, Crow 01 pulled off target downwind. At the same time Crow 02 was cleared in to attack the AAA gun emplacement that was also firing at the flight. After attacking the AAA gun, Crow 02 was to return to orbit at altitude while Crow 01 completed its passes on the convoy.
Highway 19 ran through a series of loosely connected jungle covered valleys that ran in a generally south to southeasterly direction. Extremely rugged mountains rose up on each side of the valleys. Highway 19 crossed into South Vietnam due west of Khe Sanh.
At 2012 hours, as Crow 01 pulled off target after making a Cluster Bomb Unit (CBU) delivery run, the crew noticed a large explosion and fire on the ground roughly at 050 degrees and 1 mile from the target. Crow 01 made a third pass on the target and released their remaining ordnance. As Crow 01 pulled off target again, he called Crow 02 in to begin his attack runs on the remnants of the enemy convoy.
When the crew of Crow 01 could not establish radio contact with Norman Green and Wayne Irsch, they contacted two other aircraft operating in the same area to enlist their assistance in contacting Crow 02. They were Candlestick 01, another flare ship participating in the overall mission; and Alleycat, the airborne battlefield command and control aircraft who controlled all aircraft operating in the mission sector. However, none of the aircrews were able to establish contact. Likewise, no emergency beepers were heard and no parachutes seen.
The crew of Crow 01 believed that Lt. Col. Green's and 1st Lt. Irsch's aircraft was struck by the intense 37mm AAA fire directed at the flight from the gun emplacement Crow 02 attacked.
The target and crash site were located in a heavily defended area approximately 3 miles southeast of Binh Tram 34, a way station the NVA used for a variety of purposes, on Highway 19. It was also 17 miles south of the 17th parallel that separated North and South Vietnam, 17 miles west-northwest of Muang Xepone, 28 miles west of the Lao/South Vietnamese border and 36 miles south of the Ban Karai Pass, Savannakhet Province, Laos.
Shortly after Crow 02 disappeared, a photo reconnaissance aircraft took pictures of the fire. Visual and electronic search and rescue (SAR) operations began shortly after the Crow 02 disappeared and continued through out day light hours. SAR aircraft resumed the search at first light on 10 June, but found no sign of the aircraft or its crew. At the time the formal search was terminated, Norman Green and Wayne Irsch were listed Missing in Action.
1st Lt. Irsch and Lt. Col. Green were 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 Wayne Irsch and Norman Green died in the loss of their Phantom, each man has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, under the circumstances if they were able to eject, they most certainly would have been captured and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, 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.
Norman M. Green was the squadron commander of the 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron, nicknamed "The Night Owls."