Name: James Richard "Jim" Thomas T057p
Rank/Branch: Technical Sergeant/US Air Force
Unit: 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron
DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam

Date of Birth: 05 July 1943
Home of Record: Ft. Walton Beach, FL
Date of Loss: 25 November 1971
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 103800N 1064800E (XS953730
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: HH53C "Super Jolly Green Giant"
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)


SYNOPSIS: The Sikorsky HH53 Super Jolly Green Giant was the largest, fastest and most powerful heavy lift helicopter in the US Air Force's inventory. In 1967, a program to develop a night rescue capability was initiated. By late 1970 the program successfully installed night recovery systems aboard five HH53C Super Jolly helicopters in Southeast Asia. These helicopters were used in such vital operations as the US raid on the San Tay Prison Camp near Hanoi in November 1970 and the assault mission to free the Mayaguez crew in Cambodia in May 1975.

On 25 November 1971, Major Robert B. Swenck, aircraft commander; Capt. John W. George, co-pilot; Sgt. Theriot, flight engineer; Sgt. Sneed, pararescueman; A1C Thomas D. Prose, pararescueman; and TSgt. James R. Thomas, pararescueman comprised the crew of an HH53C helicopter, call sign Jolly Green 70, on a search and rescue (SAR) mission. At 0950 hours, Jolly Green 70 and Jolly Green 73 departed Bien Hoa Airbase to rescue 14 survivors of an American CH46 that crashed south of Can Tho, South Vietnam. During the rescue, Jolly Green 70 sustained battle damage from enemy ground fire, but no casualties. After dropping off the crash survivors at Can Tho, the crew of Jolly Green 70 checked their aircraft over for battle damage and decided it was capable of returning to their home station.

The SAR aircraft departed Can Tho in tactical formation for the 95-mile flight to Bien Hoa to the northeast. During the return flight, they encountered a 100 foot to 300 foot high cloud overcast with moderate to heavy rain showers. At 1550 hours, while flying below the cloud cover, Jolly Green 73 lost contact with Jolly Green 70. When radio could not be reestablished, other search aircraft were called in. During the subsequent search, they located the crash site of Jolly Green 70, approximately 13 nautical miles southeast of Tan Son Nhut Airbase, Saigon. This area was considered a high threat sector due to the highly trained and heavily armed concentration of enemy troops located there. The crash site was in water close to the east bank of the Song Nha Be River, near the town of Nha Be, Gia Dinh Province, South Vietnam.

Two crewmen, Sgts. Sneed and Theriot, survived the crash. According to their debriefings, before the helicopter received more hits from enemy ground fire, A1C Prose was in the #1 gunner's scanner, TSgt. Thomas was in the #2 gunner's scanner and both of them were near Jim Thomas. When the helicopter struck the water, it flipped on its back, then sank immediately. Two local Vietnamese divers were used to locate the wreckage in the river's muddy water. Recovery operations were terminated due to darkness, then resumed the next morning at first light. While salvage operations continued for the downed helicopter, the river bank down stream from the crash site was searched for other crewmen who could have been carried away in the swift current. While none were found, search personnel did find the left auxiliary fuel tank with portions of sponson and the fuel bladder still attached 2 miles downstream near a Vietnamese fishing village where it washed ashore. During questioning of local residents, a fisherman stated he saw another man wearing a T-shirt alive in the river. Jim Thomas was the only crewman wearing a T-shirt and not a fatigue shirt. They also confirmed that while one side of the river was controlled by friendly forces, the other side was under enemy control.

Vietnamese divers again located the wreckage in the very muddy water and at a depth of 15 feet. By mid-afternoon, they rigged the fuselage with cables which were then used to pull the twisted hulk to the surface. The remains of Maj. Swenck, Capt. George and A1C Prose were recovered from it before it was towed up the river to an area where it could more easily and securely be examined. During the trip, the wreckage pulled loose and again sank to the bottom of the river. On 27 November, a Vietnamese diver swam completely through Jolly Green 70's fuselage searching for Jim Thomas' body, but found none. The helicopter was raised for the second time to determine if TSgt. Thomas was somehow still trapped inside, but no remains were found in the twisted metal. Jim Thomas, who was TDY from his search and rescue squadron at DaNang to the squadron at Bien Hoa, was immediately listed Missing in Action.

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.

Pilots and aircrews 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.