|Name:||Richard Artur "Rick" Knutson|
|Rank/Branch:||Chief Warrant Officer 3 / US Army|
|Unit:||62nd Aviation Company, 11th Combat Aviation, 1st Aviation Brigade|
|Date of Birth:||11 September 1949|
|Home of Record:||Hallock, MN|
|Date of Loss:||08 January 1973|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
|Loss Coordinates:||16421N 1070956E (YD324528)
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||Elbert W. Bush; William L. Deane; Manuel A. Lauterio; William S. Stinson; Mickey A. Wilson (all missing)|
SYNOPSIS:By early 1967, the Bell UH1 Iroquois was already the standard Army assault helicopter, and was used in nearly every “in-country” mission. Better known by its nickname “Huey,” the troop carriers were referred to as “slicks” and the gunships were called “Hogs.” It proved itself to be a sturdy, versatile aircraft which was called on to carry out a wide variety of missions including search and rescue, close air support, insertion and extraction, fire support, and resupply to name a few. It usually carried a crew of four.
On 8 January 1973, the CW2 Mickey A. Wilson, aircraft commander; then WO1 Richard A. “Rick” Knutson, pilot; SP5 Manuel A. Lauterio, crew chief; and SP5 William S. Stinson, gunner; comprised the crew of a UH1H helicopter (serial #69-15619). This particular aircrew was assigned to fly missions in support of the Senior American Advisor to the Vietnamese Airborne Division in Quang Tri and Thua Thien Provinces and frequently flew missions between the provincial capitals of Hue and Quang Tri. All four crewmen were assigned to the 62nd Aviation Company, 1st Aviation Battalion, 11th Combat Aviation Group.
Also on board the Huey were passengers Maj. William L. Deane and SSgt. Elbert W. Bush who were assigned to Army Advisory Group, Headquarters, Military Assistance Command – Vietnam. The flight was conducting a support mission to several landing zones (LZs) in the vicinity of Quang Tri City, Trieu Phong District, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.
For unknown reasons, then CW2 Wilson and then WO1 Knutson did not establish the usual radio contact with the 2nd Battalion Technical Operations Center prior to or during the flight. When no radio contact was received by 1500 hours, the operations center queried all landing zones on the aircraft’s briefed route to ascertain its whereabouts. The center was informed that the helicopter failed to land at two of the designated LZs. Operations center personnel also learned that at 1430 hours, the Huey departed LZ Sally enroute to Quang Tri City.
The Huey’s intended route was to take it northwest toward Quang Tri City, then to a point southwest of the city where it would turn west to LZ Sally, which was located just south of the Thach Han River. Even though there was no radio contact, the Huey was observed by ground forces as it flew northwest toward Quang Tri City, then instead of turning to the west as briefed, the witnesses saw the helicopter cross the Thach Han River into enemy held territory. While it was northwest of the river, it was seen to circle twice with its door guns blazing at an unknown ground target. Enemy automatic weapons fire was heard by friendly ground troops. They also reported seeing three SA-7 ground-to-air missiles fired at the helicopter. The first missile missed the Huey, but the second struck the helicopter’s tail boom crippling it. A third missile impacted the Huey’s fuselage prior to its crash into a populated area near the ARVN’s Ai Tu Combat Base.
A search and rescue (SAR) operation was immediately initiated and continued through 9 January. As SAR aircraft approached the area in which the Huey was downed, they were repeatedly driven off by small arms and automatic weapons fire as well as multiple SA-7 launches. Because the area was under total enemy control, no ground team was able to reach the crash site either. At the time formal SAR operations were terminated, Mickey Wilson, Rick Knutson, Manuel Lauterio, William Stinson, William Deane and Elbert Bush were all listed Missing in Action.
The Huey disappeared in the hotly contested and densely populated area just to the west of the Thach Han River and approximately 1/2 mile west of the southern portion of Quang Tri City. Highway 1, the principle north/south highway that ran nearly the entire length and along the eastern edge of Vietnam, was located a few hundred yards east of the river.
Almost immediately US intelligence began receiving reports indicating that of the six men aboard the UH1H, four were seen alive on the ground. The families of the men assumed their loved ones would be released with the other POWs, and some families were even so informed by their US military casualty officer.
In early 1973, 591 American Prisoners of War were released during Operation Homecoming. All returnees were debriefed by US intelligence to include any information each possessed about other Americans who were known or believed to be prisoners and who were not released from captivity. According to MSgt. Louis E. Leblanc, Jr., he reported having direct contact and a conversation with Rick Knutson while in captivity. Less substantial information was provided by Lt. Cmdr. Leo G. Hyatt, who provided hearsay information about William Deane possibly being held captive. None of the returnees were able to provide information about Mickey Wilson, Manuel Lauterio, William Stinson or Elbert Bush.
No further information was forthcoming until January 1994 when an investigative team from the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) returned to Vietnam to interview witnesses. According to the Investigative Element’s report: “In January 1994 a US/SRV investigative team interviewed additional witness to an incident that could be correlated with case (Reference Number) 1978. Witness said three sets of remains exhumed by SRV military officials around 1981. One of the witnesses led the team to a Vietnamese cemetery where he claimed they buried the remains associated with this incident. Team excavated burial site and recovered human remains and teeth. The remains were escorted to Hanoi, SRV where they were examined during the 23rd joint forensics examination and selected for repatriation to US. Remains were remanded to the custody of US officials at Nui Ba Airport on 7 February 1994 in box #12 of 13.”
All 13 boxes arrived at the US Army’s Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) on 8 February 1994. The remains in box #12 included 12 teeth/parts of teeth and over 300 bone fragments, including 48 from the cranium and 7 from the mandible. Many of the rest of the fragments were good sized and showed signs of post mortem fracturing, were dried and cracked, and poorly preserved. The exceptions were the humerus bones, the long bones from the arm, which were in good condition compared to the other bone fragments. After examination, the 12 teeth/parts of teeth were found to match then WO1 Knutson’s radiographs and dental records. On 28 November 1995, the remains of Rick Knutson were identified; and shortly thereafter, returned to his family for burial.
For the remainder of the crew, unanswered questions remained until the July-August 1996 Joint Field Activity (JFA) when members of the JTFFA returned to Quang Tri City to pursue the case. Members of the investigative team interviewed witnesses who claimed they buried the remains of several Americans associated with this incident near the crash site. They pointed to an area close to a tree as being the specific gravesite location. Because the entire sector frequently flooded, the excavation team discovered the grave was covered with a very deep layer of silt. The team excavated to a depth of 3.2 meters, approximately 14 feet, before they reached the grave itself. There they found the partial commingled remains of what they believed to be the remaining five crewmen.
Because of the manner in which the bodies had been buried, the team was able to get a good idea of the grouping of bone fragments in relation to the teeth, and they were grouped, then transported accordingly. Once the excavation site was closed, all remains were first sent to Hanoi where they went through the same repatriation process, as had the remains of Rick Knutson. On 27 August 1996 the teeth and bone fragments recovered during the excavation arrived at CIL-HI for examination. The results of the dental comparison of the recovered teeth with each man’s radiographs and dental records confirmed the presence of all five remaining crewmen and passengers. While no DNA tests were conducted, CIL-HI staff believed the bone fragments could be correlated to each man. The positive identification of teeth and tentative identification of bone fragments is as follows:
- Manuel Lauterio – 28 teeth/parts of teeth, remains were believed to be the most complete and included both legs, the left arm, broken ribs, an intact skull with the facial portion broken out and most of the jawbone with teeth in place
- Elbert Bush – 16 teeth/parts of teeth, less complete skeletal remains, but fragments from various parts of the body
- William Deane – 7 teeth/parts of teeth, small amount of bone fragments
- William Stinson – 15 teeth/parts of teeth, small amount of bone fragments
- Mickey Wilson – 5 teeth/parts of teeth, small amount of bone fragments
On 4 October 1999, William Deane, Mickey Wilson, Manuel Lauterio, William Stinson and Elbert Bush were declared remains recovered based on dental identification. The commingled remains were buried in a single grave. While the fate of all six men aboard the Huey has been resolved and their families have the comfort of knowing where each man’s mortal remains lie. For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Indochina, their fates could be quite different.
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.
Aircrews 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 so proudly served.