STAFFORD, RONALD DEAN

Name: Ronald Dean Stafford 
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Air Force 
Unit: 6280th Combat Support Group, 
474th Tactical Fighter Wing 
Takhli Airbase, Thailand 

Date of Birth: 03 January 1943
Home of Record: Oxford, NE 
Date of Loss: 21 November 1972 
Country of Loss: South Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 162442N 1075155E (ZD060160)
Click coordinates to view (4) maps

Status in 1973: Killed/Body Not Recovered 
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F111A "Aardvark"
Other Personnel In Incident: Charles J. Caffarelli (missing) 

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:  The General Dynamics F111A Aardvark was a state-of-the-art fighter that proved to be a very effective night and adverse-weather, low-level strike aircraft. Its two-man crew sat side by side rather than the standard front seat/back seat configuration of most other jets. The F111 also was equipped for the first time with a crew capsule ejection system that was being tested for use by NASA in the space program

On 21 November 1972, Capt. Ronald D. Stafford, pilot, and Capt. Charles J. Caffarelli, weapons systems officer, comprised the crew of a General Dynamics F111A Aardvark (serial #67-0092) that was conducting a night combat mission over Quang Binh, South Vietnam. Their tactical flight plan called for them to egress the target area by an over water route.

The F111A was tracked by US ground control radar until it reached the target area, at which time the aircraft dropped below the altitude level at which the radar could see it. When Capt. Stafford and Capt. Caffarelli failed to make radio contact at the appointed time, a radio check was made. At 0522 hours, the time estimated that their fuel would have been exhausted, a search and rescue (SAR) operation was initiated along the aircraft's intended flight path. These efforts failed to locate any trace of the aircraft or its crew. On 2 December 1972, pieces of their aircraft were found washed up on the beach of South Vietnam between Hue and DaNang, at a point approximately 9 miles due east of the Hue/ Phu Bai Airbase, 16 miles southeast of the city of Hue and 32 miles northwest of DaNang, Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam.

Formal SAR efforts were terminated on 3 December when no additional signs of Capt. Stafford and Capt. Caffarelli were found. Even though the aircraft went down within 5 kilometers - 3 miles - of the shoreline and there was no indication the two men failed to eject their crippled aircraft, at the time the search was terminated, both Ronald Stafford and Charles Caffarelli were listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.

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, 5 North Vietnamese radio messages were intercepted and correlated to this incident. The NSA synopsis states: "(The) 250th AAA Regiment, (deleted word) shootdown (deleted word) an aircraft in the Quang Tri area by firing a 'rocket' - possible SA-7. The Vietnamese initiated search activities for the downed aircrew at possible 1647N 10650E. No further reflections of aircrew status. It is possible that the pilots parachuted near highpoint 310 (poss. 1647N 10650E) at Nui Vo. Efforts to attempt the capture of the pilots were ordered. (An) unidentified element at Thanh Hoa (North Vietnam) reports an aircraft shot down southeast of the city, with the pilot(s) being rescued at sea."

During the July-August 1994 US field investigation trip to Southeast Asia, a US team from the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) found records at the Phu Thrach District Office that related to the shoot down of an F111 by the Phu Thrach village militia in late November 1972. According to these documents, the aircraft was brought down by 15 rounds from a 12.7mm anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) weapon stationed in the village. The documents go on to state that the aircraft caught fire and crashed about 3 kilometers - 1.8 miles - off shore, the villagers recovered much of the wreckage and they took the aircraft parts to An Khe village.

The US team traveled to An Khe, but could find no trace of the aircraft wreckage in or around the village. More importantly, when JTFFA personnel interviewed the village residents, there was no information about the crew aboard the Aardvark being either killed or captured.

If Ronald Stafford and Charles Caffarelli died as a result of their loss incident, they have a right to have their remains returned to their families, friends and country. However, if they survived, they most certainly could have been captured by communist forces known to be operating in that region, and their fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for, 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 American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Fighter pilots 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.