Name: Joy Leonard Owens 
Rank/Branch: Colonel/US Air Force 
Unit: 11th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron                       
Udorn Airfield, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 06 July 1929 (Wisconsin)
Home of Record: Seattle, WA
Date of Loss: 07 June 1967 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 192000N 1033300E (UG479381)
Click coordinates to view(4) maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: RF4C "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: Harold R. Sale, Jr. (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 7 June 1967, then Major Joy L. Owens, pilot; and 1st Lt. Harold R. Sale, co-pilot; comprised the crew of an RF4C, call sign "Keystone 1," that departed Udorn Airfield on an unarmed night photo reconnaissance mission. Their flight path was from Udorn to the Canh Trap Highway Bridge (B/FD) on Route 7 and Route 623, North Vietnam. The flight was then to proceed to a second target described as a segment of highway on Route 623 in northern Laos.

This segment of highway in Laos was considered to be a major artery of 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.

Six minutes after take off; Major Owens contacted Brigham, the Ground Control Intercept (GCI) station, for the current IS-SIF check. All flight checks were normal. He then requested the status of the weather conditions that showed on radar ahead of them. Keystone 1 was informed "radar painted activity at 50 nautical miles to the east-northeast from north of Udorn." Keystone 1 was also informed that other aircraft reported the cloud bases were from 8,000 feet MSL and tops to 24,000 feet MSL with some build-ups to 35,000 feet MSL. At that time, Major Owens stated their altitude was 10,000 feet.

At 10 minutes after take off, Brigham reported to Keystone 1 that an unidentified aircraft had been reported to the north of their position. Keystone 1 acknowledged this report. Shortly thereafter, all contact with Major Owens and 1st Lt. Sales ceased.

In spite of the fact that the official listing for this aircraft's country of loss is North Vietnam, the last radar fixed position for Keystone 1 placed it in Laos over extremely rugged and sparsely populated jungle covered mountains approximately 3 nautical miles west of Ban Xan Noy, 20 nautical miles southeast of Muang Phonsavan, and 21 miles west of the Lao/North Vietnamese border, Xiangkhouang Province, Laos.

A full Search and Rescue (SAR) effort was immediately initiated, but no trace of the aircraft or crew was found. At the time formal SAR operations were terminated, Joy Owens and Harold Sale were listed Missing in Action.

Joy Owens and Harold Sale are among 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 that ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

If Joy Owens and Harold Sale died as a result of their loss incident, each man has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, 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 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.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam and Laos 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.