Name: Michael Land Roberts 
Rank/Branch: Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class/US Navy 
Unit: Observation Squadron 67
Nakhon Phanom Airfield, Thailand 
Date of Birth: 14 July 1944 
Home of Record: Purvis, MS
Date of Loss: 11 January 1968 
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 171800N 1055258E (WE938123)
Click coordinates to view  (4) maps
Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: OP2E "Neptune"
Other Personnel In Incident: Denis Anderson; Arthur Buck; Richard Mancini; Delbert Olson; Gale Siow; Phillip Stevens; Donald Thoresen and Kenneth Widon (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:  The Lockheed OP2E Neptune was used for a wide variety of missions including its primary function of patrolling the Vietnamese coast in search of contraband carrying junks in Operation Market Time. Several OP2E aircraft were assigned to Task Force Alpha, a special unit organized under US Air Force command employed to deliver Air Delivered Seismic Detection Sensors (ADSID) along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia. The twin-engine Neptune dropped the sensors to aid intelligence in pinpointing the heaviest traffic for fighters and gunships assigned to attack enemy targets on the trail. The anti-infiltration detection system program had a succession of code names including "Igloo White," the name most recognized and used the longest. No matter what its mission identifier, the eavesdropping network was dubbed "McNamara's Line" after then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the architect of the program.

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.

On 11 January 1968, Cmdr. Delbert A. "Del" Olson, mission commander/pilot; LT. JG Denis L. Anderson, co-pilot; Lt. Philip P. Stevens, navigator; Lt. JG, Arthur C. Buck, flight officer/bombardier; ATN2 Gale Siow, radioman; AO2 Michael L. Roberts, ordnanceman; ADJ2, Donald Thoresen, flight engineer; PH2 Kenneth H. Widon, photographer; and AE2 Richard M. Mancini, 1st technician; comprised the all volunteer crew of an OP2E Neptune, known as "Crew 2," that was conducting a morning Igloo White sensor seeding mission along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

A typical Igloo White mission configuration of support aircraft involved three Cessna O-2 Super Skymaster's as spotters and two to four F-4 Phantom's for fighter protection. While the other aircraft were able to swerve back and forth to avoid being hit by NVA small arms, heavy weapons and anti-aircraft artillery fire; the sensor drops required the hybrid aircraft with two prop and two jet engines to fly straight and level at 500 feet above the ground making it an easy target. Further, the routes flown on these exceptionally dangerous missions were over some of the most heavily defended and populated areas with large numbers of well-trained and equally well-armed NVA troops like Tchepone and Ban Loboy Ford. Bob Reynolds, who flew with Crew 5, remarked "I remember being so low you could see the bad guys' eyeballs down there."

The sensors were 3-foot long cylinders some of which were designed to hang up in trees and pick up sound while others embedded in the ground and listened for the rumble of trucks. The sensors were rigged so acid was released to destroy the electronics inside if the casing was opened. The communists recovered one sensor and shipped it by truck to Hanoi for examination. Americans monitoring the sensor listened to the enemy troop's conversation during the trip before sending in an air strike to destroy it.

The target location was along Highway 911, the primary road running from the Mu Gia Pass through "Steel Tiger North" - the mission's sector identifier for that region of eastern Laos that NVA troops and supplies flowed through before crossing the border into South Vietnam near the major US base of Khe Sanh. Weather conditions in the target area included broken to overcast clouds.

As he dropped down through low cloud cover, Cmdr. Olson transmitted that he "saw an opening in the clouds and was going through it see whether he could accomplish the (sensor) drop." At 0957 hours, the command center lost all radio and radar contact with the Neptune. That in itself did not cause undue concern because the rugged mountains frequently blocked radar and radio signals when aircraft were flying at a low altitude. However, when the aircraft failed to return to base within a reasonable time, an extensive visual, electronic and photographic search was conducted in the area of its last known position.

On January 23, a US Air Force A1 Skyraider located a suspected crash site. Later a visual air reconnaissance of the site verified the wreckage as that of Crew 2's aircraft. It crashed into a sheer cliff on the northern side of Phoulouang Mountain - the highest mountain in that sector, and 150 feet below the 4583-foot summit. It was also located approximately 4 miles northeast of Highway 911, 9 miles northeast of Ban Nalouangnua, 13 miles southwest of the Lao/North Vietnamese border, 17 miles northwest of Ban Loboy, 20 miles due west of the Ban Karai Pass, 26 miles south-southeast of Mu Gia Pass and 46 miles north-northwest of Tchepone, Khammouane Province, Laos.

To make matters worse, the cockpit section was buried into the side of the mountain. The fuselage broke off and fell downslope with some of it landing on a shallow 9-foot wide ledge. The main section of the fuselage and landing gear came to rest on another ledge that was 50 to 60 feet wide and about 200 feet below the first one. The tail section was located an additional 400 feet down the mountain's sheer face on a third ledge. Some of the crew's bodies were seen lying amid the wreckage field and the squadron's dog, Snoopy, was seen next to the body of one of the crewman.

After a thorough examination of the aerial photographs and a review of the search aircraft aircrews' debriefing statements, military intelligence personnel determined that even though emergency beeper signals had been heard emanating from the crash site, there were no survivors and probably no identifiable remains. Further, because of the heavy jungle canopy, irregular and extreme terrain, as well as the crash site being located deep within enemy-held territory, no ground recovery team was inserted into the crash site. The crash site photos indicated that one wing hit the mountain a split second before the aircraft flew into it. While the photos provided certain evidence and proof of this loss, they provided no indication of what caused the Neptune to crash. The general belief was that it was most likely struck by AAA fire once it descended below the clouds.

At the time the formal search was terminated, all members of Crew 2 were placed in an initial casualty status of Missing In Action. On 23 February 1968, a review board evaluated all the known evidence pertaining to this loss incident. After careful consideration, they ruled that none of the crew survived, and changed each man's casualty status to Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

In 1996 members of the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) mounted the first recovery mission to Phoulouang Mountain. Team members used ropes and ascenders to rappel down the mountain's sheer face in order to reach the first and second ledges. The team recovered bits and pieces of material from the first ledge. Due to the weather and terrain conditions, the team was unable to recover any material from the second ledge. Artifacts recovered included helmet fragments including Cmdr. Olson's with part of a scull imbedded in it, fragments of Cmdr. Olson's and Lt. JG Anderson's flight suits, change from their pockets including paper money, both of Del Olson's dogtags, ID and Geneva Convention cards for both Gale Siow and Phillip Stevens, and some of the crewmen's pistols.

In March 2000, a highly specialized JTFFA team returned to Phoulouang Mountain with recovery experts from the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CIL-HI) and US Army soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, who were trained and experienced mountaineers, were part of this task force. According to Lt. Col. Franklin Childress, a member of JTFFA and part of the team, "It was incredible. As you were flying up there, it was like something out of Indiana Jones. A 1,000-foot waterfall spilled below the wreckage site." At the site itself, Lt. Col. Childress spotted "a fire extinguisher here, a gauge over there, a mini-gun jutting from a rock pile." Because of its inaccessibility and remoteness, the site had never been disturbed.

Once the recovery work from the top two levels was completed, the site was temporarily closed. The recovery work will continue during a future Joint Field Activity (JFA) until it is finished. Until then, the families and friends of these men have a measure of peace of mind of knowing to what extraordinary lengths members of the JTFFA are going through to conduct this field excavation for their loved ones.

When asked how he and his family felt, David Olson, Cmdr. Olson's son replied, "Having (my father) brought off that mountain in Laos is a big load off my mind. To have him brought home to the US with his crew is 80% of the closure to bringing him home." David Olson added, "When you fight for your country, you shouldn't be stuck on the side of a mountain or in a creek or in a jungle. Your remains should be brought back home."

While the fate of Delbert Olson, Denis Anderson, Arthur Buck, Richard Mancini, Michael Roberts, Gale Siow, Phillip Stevens, Donald Thoresen and Kenneth Widen was not in question, each man had the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country.

For other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, their fate 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.

American military men 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.