Remains Returned 23 Jan 1989; Identified 20 April 1990
Name: Martin Dahlberg Vanden Eykel II v013p
Rank/Branch: Chief Warrant Officer/US Army
Unit: 129th Aviation Company, 17th Aviation Group,
1st Aviation Brigade
Date of Birth: 04 October 1943
Home of Record: Wheaton, IL
Date of Loss: 02 December 1969
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 141944N 1085447E (BR750850)
Click coordinates to view maps
Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: UH1B "Iroquois"
Other Personnel In Incident: William D. Sanderlin; Michael H. Shanley, Jr.; William C.Dunlap (remains recovered)


SYNOPSIS: The Bell UH1 Iroquois helicopter was much better known by its nickname "Huey." All branches of the service flew this rugged and versatile aircraft, and in fact, flew in nearly every in-country mission during the war. Its uses included Medevac, Search and Recovery, Psyops, Air Assault, Combat Support, Supply, Reconnaissance, Troop Carrier and Gunship. In its capacity as a gunship, it was known as "hog"; and as a troop carrier, it was known as a "slick."

On 2 December 1969, W2 Martin D. Vanden Eykel, aircraft commander; then W2 William C. "Bill" Dunlap, pilot; SP5 William D. Sanderlin, crew chief; and SP5 Michael H. Shanley, Jr., door gunner; comprised the crew of the #2 UH1B Huey gunship (serial #64-13959) in a flight of two conducting a night ground support mission for a long range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP) that was engaged in combat with enemy forces and had radioed for assistance. The ground patrol was operating in the southern portion of a heavily forested mountain range in Bong Son District, Binh Dinh Province, South Vietnam.

Because this region was heavily infested with well-armed and entrenched Viet Cong (VC) forces, it was considered to be extremely dangerous. Further, a remarkably large number of aircraft had been downed in this sector earning it the nickname, "the graveyard of helicopters." The two gunships were accompanied by a third that was equipped with flares to illuminate the target area.

The flight departed Landing Zone (LZ) English and arrived on the target area at 2230 hours. Immediately the flight leader attempted to establish radio contact with the members of the LRRP, but was unsuccessful in doing so. About the same time, the third Huey began dropping flares to illuminate the terrain while the two gunships flew low over the jungle covered mountains searching for signs of the ground team as well as for enemy targets. Almost immediately W2 Vanden Eykel radioed Lead that he was experiencing vertigo and the pilot of the flare ship radioed both gunships that they had to change course to avoid flying into the side of a mountain.

Under the untenable conditions caused by the flares and terrain features, the flight leader made the decision to abort the mission if contact with the ground team could not be established. The two gunships made one more pass over the area in an attempt to spot the ground team. At this time the pilot of the lead Huey also experienced vertigo and radioed the other aircrews that he nearly crashed because of it. Lead directed his wingman and the flare ship to make a 180-degree turn and depart the area. W2 Vanden Eykel acknowledged the command with an affirmative response. This acknowledgement was also the last transmission received from the #2 aircraft.

When the Huey failed to return to base, a radio check was made with all the other airfields and LZs in the region in case they were forced to divert to one of them. At first light the next morning a full-scale search and rescue (SAR) operation began. The area in which the gunship disappeared was heavily forested with hamlets and villages of varying sizes scattered along the grassy foothills located just to the south of the target area. A river flowed through the mountains half a mile to the west and it continued through large rice fields located south, east and west of the mountains. The loss location was also approximately 14 miles southwest of Hoa Nhon, 21 miles west of the coastline, 43 miles northwest of Qui Nhan and 54 miles east-southeast of Kontum, South Vietnam.

Throughout the numerous ground and air searches that were conducted over the next few days, no emergency beeper signals were heard and no wreckage was found. At the time the formal SAR was terminated, Martin Vanden Eykel, Bill Dunlap, William Sanderlin and Michael Shanley were reported as Missing in Action.

Following the loss of the helicopter and crew, a Board of Inquiry was held to review all known facts surround the loss of the gunship and determine the status of its aircrew. A local Vietnamese woman appeared at the hearing and reported that she saw the helicopter go down and the crew captured by the Viet Cong.

In July 1973, Vietnamese woodcutters who were working in the mountains reported finding the wreckage of a helicopter in that vicinity. Immediately an investigation was conducted. The results disclosed that the aircraft was not a helicopter, but a fixed wing airplane not related to this case.

In December 1974, another local Vietnamese reported finding aircraft wreckage in the same general area. Another field investigation was conducted, but the wreckage was that of a South Vietnamese helicopter, not the American Huey gunship.

On 23 January 1989, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam repatriated 25 sets of remains to the US control. Four of those sets of remains were identified on 20 April 1990 as being the crew of this aircraft. Of these four, Bill Dunlap and William Sanderlin were positively identified through dental comparison. Michael Shanley and Martin Vanden Eykel were never conclusively identified. The families of each crewman aboard the UH1B accepted the remains.

The families and friends of W2 Vanden Eykel, W2 Dunlap, SP5 Shanley and SP5 Sanderlin have the peace of mind of knowing where their loved ones are buried. However, for other American servicemen and civilians who remain unaccounted for throughout 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 American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and each was 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.

Chief Warrant Officer Martin Dahlberg Vanden Eykel II was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.