Name: John Leslie Ryder 
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Air Force 
Unit: 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron 
Cam Ranh Bay Airbase, 
South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 05 July 1946
Home of Record: Chisholm, MN
Date of Loss: 09 June 1970 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 1043419N 1074243E (YB785205)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: O1F "Bird Dog"
Other Personnel In Incident: Barry W. Hilbrich (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:  The low, slow and vulnerable Cessna O1F Bird Dog Forward Air Control (FAC) aircraft were inherited by the Air Force from the Army when the Army lost command of this fix-wing observation fleet during 1965. The aircraft itself usually only carried white phosphorous target marker rockets that were mounted beneath the wings. The aircrews, however, carried their own personal weapons, which added a limited degree of armament to this daring little aircraft. The Bird Dog was not only vulnerable to enemy ground fire, it was also at risk of being accidentally hit by friendly fire because its shape and speed helped it blend into its surroundings. Later in the war the Bird Dog's upper wing was painted white or orange to emphasize the slow-moving FAC's position to friendly strike aircraft.

On 9 June 1970, Air Force 1st Lt. John L. Ryder, pilot; and Special Forces Operations Officer Capt. Barry W. Hilbrich, observer; comprised the crew of an O1F (aircraft #57-2890), call sign "Mike 81." They departed Pleiku Airfield to conduct a visual reconnaissance mission to locate and identify an enemy ammo cache. The area of operation was south of Ben Het with a final destination of Dak Seang Special Forces Camp.

At 1255 hours, as Mike 81 flew low over the rugged mountains of the central highlands, 1st Lt. Ryder made his first standard radio check with Herb 50, the tactical air control center at Pleiku. At that time he reported they had not seen any enemy activity in the area and they had not yet located the ammo cache. Further, he did not report having any difficulty with their aircraft.

Mike 81 was scheduled to make another radio check at 1327 hours, but failed to do so. Herb 50 attempted to reach the Bird Dog, and when the ground controller was unsuccessful in establishing contact, he called all the airfields in the region where the aircrew might have diverted to in an emergency. After learning no one knew the whereabouts of Mike 81, the aircraft was declared missing.

The last known location of Mike 81 was approximately 1 mile northwest of a primary road, 4 miles southwest of Dak Seang, 10 miles west-southwest of Dak To and 50 miles north-northwest of Pleiku, Kontum Province, South Vietnam. It was also 7 miles southeast of the tri-border area where South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia meet. In this area the rugged mountains and surrounding valley are covered with heavy undergrowth. Weather conditions included 5,000-foot high scattered clouds and variable broken clouds. There was visibility of 15 miles and winds were from the west-southwest at 10 knots.

No visual search and rescue (SAR) operation was conducted on 9 June due to severe thunderstorms in the area. SAR operations were initiated at first light the next morning, but were hampered by poor weather conditions. An electronic search was also initiated at the same time. These efforts continued under deteriorating weather conditions until 19 June when they were terminated.

During these operations 46 sorties were flown with a total of 143 flying hours logged over an area extending from Pleiku north to the I Corps boundary and west of the Cambodian border. At no time did any of the personnel involved hear any emergency beepers or see any trace of the missing aircraft and its crew. At the time the formal search was terminated, John Ryder and Barry Hilbrich were listed Missing in Action.

In 1976 John Ryder's mother traveled to England where she met with Vietnamese officials at their embassy. While they were very cordial to her as she tried to discuss the fate of her son, Barry Hilbrich and the other American POW/MIAs, she later reported, "they repeated over and over again, they will give out no information on the missing men until the US has rebuilt Vietnam."

In 1992, a National Security Agency (NSA) correlation study of all communist radio intercepts pertaining to missing Americans, which was presented to the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in a classified format, was finally declassified and made public. According to this document, at least one North Vietnamese radio message was intercepted and correlated to this incident. The NSA synopsis states: "Lost on a visual reconnaissance mission. The NVA 95B Regiment associate; ...opened fire and shot down one aircraft. One aircraft shot down one kilometer from Dac Giang (unloc)."

If John Ryder and Barry Hilbrich died in their loss, each man had has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if they survived, their fate like 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.

Military men in Vietnam were called upon to fly and fight 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.