Name: John Wayne Seuell 
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Air Force 
Unit: 523rd Tactical Fighter Squadron                
405th Fighter Wing
Udorn Airfield, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 24 February 1946
Home of Record: Wheeling, MO
Date of Loss: 06 June 1972 
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 215000N 1045300E (VK879141)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action 
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F-4D "Phantom II"
Other Personnel In Incident: James A. Fowler (missing) 


SYNOPSIS:   The McDonnell F-4 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 F-4 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.

At 1000 hours on 6 June 1972, Major James A. Fowler, pilot; and Captain John W. Seuell, weapons systems officer, departed Udorn Airbase as the lead F-4D (serial #66-6232), call sign "Gopher 01," in a flight of four to conduct a MiGCAP mission. The Phantoms' were to provide fighter protection for strike aircraft that were assigned a target in the Hanoi area. Weather conditions included broken clouds with scattered rain showers

The mission progressed as briefed and the flight completed its mission without incident. As Gopher flight began its return flight to Udorn Airbase, it proceeded north along Thud Ridge, then turned west on a heading that took them north of the Yen Bai MiG base. At 1129 hours, when they were approximately 6 miles north-northeast of the MiG base, the Phantoms' received a missile warning indicating that the surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites near the North Vietnamese fighter base had a lock on them and were preparing to launch.

All four Phantoms immediately initiated evasive maneuvers. However, due in part to the weather conditions in the area, the crew of the lead aircraft was unable to shake the SAM. Other members of the flight saw the missile explode about five feet below the tail section of Gopher 01 and it immediately burst into flames, but did not disintegrate. In the chaos of the moment as the other aircrews continued to evade, no canopies or parachutes were seen leaving the crippled aircraft.

The area in which the Phantom crashed was heavily forested and roughly ½ mile east of Highway 151, the primary road used to transport troops and supplies from China to Yen Bai. It was also 6 miles north-northeast of the Yen Bai MiG base, 6 miles northeast of the northwest railroad line, which also brought supplies into Yen Bai and then on to Hanoi; 35 miles northwest of Thud Ridge and 78 miles northwest of Hanoi. Further, small villages and hamlets were scattered throughout the region.

As soon as the rest of Gopher flight safely evaded the missile attack, they radioed Crown, the airborne battlefield command and control center (ABCCC) notifying them of Gopher 01's shoot down. They also began a visual and electronic search for James Fowler and John Seuell. Thirty minutes later the other pilots' reported hearing two emergency beeper signals emanating from the jungle covered rolling hills below. While both beepers were heard, no voice contact could be established with either crewman. Because the incident occurred deep in enemy territory, no organized search and rescue effort was possible. At the time of loss, James Fowler and John Seuell were listed Missing in Action.

It was well known by the summer of 1972 that the war was drawing to a close, and that the North Vietnamese were offering huge bonuses to AAA gunners and SAM battery crews who could shoot down American aircraft and capture the aircrews alive. At this stage in the war our enemy knew that the more men they could capture, the better their chances were at the negotiating table to secure peace on their terms. Further, everyone knew American prisoners were worth much more alive than dead to both sides.

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, 3 North Vietnamese radio messages were intercepted and correlated to this incident. The NSA synopsis states: "Note: Shot down by SAM while RTB from MiGCAP mission. An F-4 was shot down by a SAM in the Yen Bai area. ….have gotten a hold of the wreckage and the …. Pilots are 'dead.' 261st SAM Regiment; '…. Pilots are dead.' An unidentified battalion of the 261st Regiment in the Hanoi/Phuc Yen area; one aircraft was shot down four kilometers south of Yen Binh (2155N 10457E). There could have been parachutes, but they could not be distinguished due to bad weather."

If James Fowler and John Seuell died in their loss incident, each man has a 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. Either way, there is little doubt that the Vietnamese could return them or their remains any time they have the desire to do so.

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 POWs remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

American military personnel 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.