Name: Peter John Russell 
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Army 
Unit: 240th Assault Helicopter Company 
214th Aviation Battalion., 12th Aviation Group 

Date of Birth: 03 October 1946
Home of Record: New York, NY 
Date of Loss: 01 August 1968 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 114856N 1071107E (YT467986)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1C "Iroquois"
Other Personnel In Incident: Steven M. Hastings and Donald R. Fowler (both missing); William Fernan (remains recovered) 


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 1 August 1968, WO William Fernan, aircraft commander; then 1st Lt. Peter J. Russell, pilot; Sgt. Steven M. "Steve" Hastings, crewchief; and  SP4 Donald R. Fowler, door gunner; comprised the crew of the #2 UH1C (serial #66-16154), call sign "Mad Dog 36," in a flight of two assigned to an emergency extraction mission for a 12-man Special Forces Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) that was under fire from a much larger NVA unit. WO Carlton Williams was the aircraft commander of the lead aircraft, call sign "Mad Dog 19." The Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC), call sign "Crown 7," that directed all air operations in the region was a US Air Force C-130 that orbited at an altitude of 24,000 feet. Mad Dog 19 was tasked with the responsibility of recovering the endangered ground patrol while Mad Dog 36 provided air cover for them.

At approximately 1915 hours, the helicopters were inbound to the reconnaissance patrol's location with weather conditions in the Song Be area being marginal at this time. Based on a weather report from the onsite Air Force Forward Air Controller (FAC), the Hueys' mission had to be cancelled.

During the return flight to the Song Be Airfield, the two helicopters were forced to separate due to the extremely low cloud ceiling and very heavy ground fog. 1st Lt. Russell reported to base that they had lost visual contact with the ground and with the flight leader, and they were climbing to an altitude that would provide them terrain clearance. He also reported that they were turning south to attempt to fly to Bien Hoa Airfield, Saigon area, in order to land by radar control if necessary. Their plan was also the recommendation given by the aviation officer in charge of the operation who was monitoring events from Song Be.

A few minutes later 1st Lt. Russell radioed that they were turning back towards Song Be, but did not explain why. About the same time the pilot of the lead aircraft radioed that they had entered severe thunderstorm turbulence and were also turning back toward Song Be. Within a very few minutes all radar contact with the lead helicopter was lost.

The ground aviation officer attempted to provide a homing beacon for Mad Dog 36 who had by now descended through a break in the clouds and was flying at treetop level at night trying to home in on the signal. 1st Lt. Russell radioed "On Course," but the aviation officer questioned the reliability of that while flying at such a low level. The last radio contact from 1st Lt. Russell's aircraft was received at 2025 hours when the aircraft was believed to be 10-15 miles southeast of Song Be and 45-55 miles northeast of Bien Hoa, Phuoc Long Province, South Vietnam.

The next morning at first light, an official US Air Force search and rescue (SAR) operation was initiated for both missing helicopters. It continued non-stop for 72 hours, and involved dozens of aircraft sent from all parts of III Corps. At approximately 1000 hours on 2 August SAR personnel heard emergency beeper signals from Carlton Williams and the crew of Mad Dog 19. All four crewmen were alive and safely extracted. The remains of the aircraft were to be destroyed, but because of the dense triple canopy jungle, the exact location could not be found again even though several aircraft were continually over the spot where the crewmen had been hoisted out via the rescue helicopter's penetrator.

All search efforts focused on the aircrew of Mad Dog 36. When no trace of the helicopter or its crew could be located, William Fernan, Peter Russell, Steven Hastings and Donald Fowler were reported as Missing in Action.

On 6 August 1971, a Montagnard woodcutter found the unburned wreckage of Mad Dog 36 approximately 1 mile east of Duc Phong, 13 miles east-southeast of Song Be, 51 miles north-northeast of Bien Hoa and 74 miles northeast of Saigon, Phuoc Long Province. The aircraft was positively identified by its tail number. The crash site was also close to the area where it was believed to have crashed.

On 21 August 1971, the first of two SAR teams was inserted into the Huey's crash site. The area was extremely remote and heavily wooded. The team found the aircraft in an inverted position lying mainly on its right side, which was also the side that sustained the most damage. Apparently the aircraft severed a tree on the way down as a piece of the main rotor blade was found embedded in the severed tree next to the Huey. The main rotor itself separated from the helicopter and was found approximately 40 feet west of the aircraft. The SAR team also found part of a skid approximately 35 feet east of the wreckage and a portion of the tail section in some nearby trees. Further, they found and recovered some human bones. As a result of this search effort, plans were made to return to the site in the near future.

On 19 September 1971, a second search team returned to the crash site. This team was comprised of SAR specialists, identification experts and engineer personnel. This search resulted in the discovery of more human bones. These bones, plus the bones previously recovered, were transported to a US military mortuary and were later identified as the remains of Warrant Officer William Fernan, the aircraft commander. These remains were found in and around the heavily damaged right side of the cockpit. They also found the right cockpit seatbelt was in the buckled position indicating WO Fernan apparently died instantly. Subsequently, William Fernan's remains were returned to his family for burial.

During the searches, five flight helmets were found. All of them were undamaged indicating the crash impact was survivable. Only one of the helmets bore a printed name on it and it was "1st Lt. P. J. Russell." All the seat belts, except for WO Fernan's, were found in the unbuckled position. SAR personnel also found several first aid packets opened and used. The search team reported they believed 1st Lt. Russell, Sgt. Steve Hastings and SP4 Donald Fowler survived the crash and exited the aircraft. The team continued to excavate and sift through the area; however, no other remains or graves were discovered. Photographs of the crash site were taken and eventually furnished to the crewmen's families. At the time the search efforts were terminated, Peter Russell, Steve Hastings and Donald Fowler were reported as Missing in Action.

The wreckage was located in an area that is both remote and covered with extremely heavy vegetation. One of the team members attempted to survey the site and had to crawl on his hands and knees to maneuver in order to do so. The difficult terrain coupled with the distinct chance that one or more of the men may have been injured in the crash reduces the possibilities of survival unless captured. The SAR team determined that because weapons and ammunition were found at the crash site, communist troops did not reach the actual crash site itself.

In April 1969, a CIA intelligence report that was generated by DaNang Regional Intelligence, compiled a very detailed description of the Viet Cong's Huong Thuy District (South Vietnam) committee headquarters, along with details of a communist prison camp. This camp was located approximately 20 miles south of Hue/Phu Bai and 40 miles northwest of DaNang. The document included maps of the facility as well as information on many of the communist staff, including names, backgrounds and jobs performed.

Also included in this document was a list of 22 American POWs by name who were positively identified from pre-capture photographs. An additional list of 32 Americans tentatively identified was also attached. The source stated that following the 1968 Tet offensive; prisoners were transferred from this camp to either North Vietnam or to an agricultural camp at an unknown location near the border of Laos. Steven Hastings was named as one of the 22 positively identified POWs. There was no indication if Peter Russell or Donald Fowler were also being held at this same camp. None of the families of those listed as positively or possibly identified Prisoners of War were ever told of this report until it was declassified in 1985, 17 years later.

In April 1991 the US government released a list of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action who were known to be alive in enemy hands and for whom there is no evidence that he or she died in captivity. This list, commonly referred to today as the USG's "Last Known Alive" list, included all three of the missing crewmen from Mad Dog 36.

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.