Name: Dennis William Omelia o023p
Rank/Branch: Warrant Officer 3rd Class/US Army
Unit: 61st Assault Helicopter Company
268th Aviation Battalion
17th Aviation Group,
1st Aviation Brigade
Date of Birth: 06 May 1941 (Buffalo, NY)
Home of Record: Smithfield, NC
Date of Loss: 03 January 1971
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 134700N 1090630E (BR960250)
Click coordinates to view maps
Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: U6 "Beaver"
Other Personnel In Incident: Thomas R. Okerlund; Luis G. Holguin; Patrick Magee; Carl Palen; Ferris Rhodes and Michael Parsons (missing)


SYNOPSIS: The de Havilland Canada U6 Beaver was a large, high-wing liaison ship that transported men and material around South Vietnam. It frequently dodged the occasional stream of Viet Cong gunfire while suffering very light damage and casualties.

At 0900 hours on 3 January 1971, Capt. Ferris A. Rhodes, Jr. was the pilot of a U6 Beaver (serial #52-25884) that was conducting an administrative support flight from Qui Nhon to Ban Me Thout, South Vietnam. The passengers on board the Beaver were collecting replacement helicopters for their respective companies. His six passengers were helicopter pilots and crewmen who would fly the helicopters back to their base. They were 1st Lt. Michael D. Parsons, WO1 Thomas R. Okerlund, then WO1 Dennis W. Omelia; WO1 Luis G. Holguin; SP6 Patrick J. Magee; and SP5 Carl A. Palen.

Unfortunately for all personnel on this flight, Capt. Rhodes departed Qui Nhon Airfield without filing a proper flight plan or obtaining a weather briefing prior to takeoff. Capt. Rhodes took off to the north, then requested and was granted permission to make a left hand turn to the west.

At 1120 hours, and approximately 14 miles southeast of Phu Cat, both radio and radar contact was lost with the plane. No further contact was made with the Beaver and it was believe by the ground control center at Qui Nhon that the flight reached the Ban Me Thout Airfield safely.

The area of takeoff at Qui Nhon was considered tricky, particularly if the weather conditions were bad. Other pilots said that if an aircraft taking off did not reach a safe altitude fast enough, they could easily crash into a nearby mountain. Further, the cruising speed of the Beaver was a mere 106 mph making it a prime target for enemy anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) located in enemy sanctuaries hidden in the nearby mountains.

The area in which the Beaver was believed to have gone down was located on the east side of the heavily forested mountain range approximately 7 miles due east of Qui Nhon, Binh Dinh Province, South Vietnam. Between their base and the mountains lay populated rice fields. A single-track railroad line ran 1mile southeast of the loss location and a primary road that paralleled the railroad track ran 1 mile to the southeast of the railroad track. The valley itself was long and narrow with the mountains wrapping nearly all the way around it to the north, and all the way around to the south and east to the coast, which was located 8 miles away.

Because Capt. Rhodes announced plans to remain overnight at Ban Me Thout, no one at Qui Nhon became alarmed until 5 January when Ferris Rhodes and his passengers failed to return to base. Once it was determined the aircraft was missing, an exhaustive air, sea and ground search and rescue (SAR) effort was initiated. The search continued until 9 January, but found no trace of the aircraft or men on board. At the time the formal search was terminated, all seven men aboard the U6 were listed Missing in Action.

If Thomas Okerlund, Dennis Omelia, Patrick Magee, Carl Palen, Ferris Rhodes, Luis Holguin and Michael Parsons died in the crash of the Beaver, they have every right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country. However, if they survived the loss, there is every chance they could have been captured by communist forces known to be operating in the region; 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 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 in Vietnam 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.