BYRD, HUGH MCNEIL, JR.

Name: Hugh McNeil Byrd, Jr.
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Army
Unit: 220th Aviation Company,
212th Aviation Battalion, 
1st Aviation Brigade 
Phu Bai Airfield, South Vietnam 

Date of Birth: 22 October 1943 (Pueblo, CO)
Home of Record: Berea, KY
Date of Loss: 09 January 1969
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 162816N 1070200E (YD170220)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing In Action
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: O1G "Bird Dog"
Other Personnel in Incident: Kevin O'Brien (missing)

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS:   The Cessna O1 Bird Dog was used extensively in the early years of the Vietnam war as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) because it could provide low, close visual reconnaissance and target marking which enabled armed aircraft or ground troops to close in on the enemy. The O1 was feared by the communists because they knew that opening fire on it would expose their location and invite attack by fighters controlled by the slowly circling Bird Dog. The enemy became bold, however, when they felt their position was compromised and attacked the little aircraft with a vengeance in order to lessen the accuracy of an impending strike.

On 9 January 1969, Capt. Hugh Byrd, pilot, and 1st Lt. Kevin O'Brien, observer, comprised the crew of an O1G Bird Dog (tail #51-5059) on a visual reconnaissance mission over Khe Sanh, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. Capt. Byrd was assigned to the 200th Aviation Company, 212th Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Brigade. 1st Lt. O'Brien was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 94th Artillery. Their mission was to search out and identify enemy targets for Kevin O'Brien's artillery battery at Khe Sanh to fire upon. During the mission, the Bird Dog was diverted from its primary mission to assist a ground reconnaissance team locked in battle with an enemy force of unknown size in the rugged jungle covered mountains near Khe Sanh. After assisting the team by providing additional targets for the artillery battery, another Forward Air Controller arrived on station.

Hugh Byrd and Kevin O'Brien began their return flight to Hue/Phu Bai Airfield located approximately 60 miles to the east-southeast of Khe Sanh. By 1940 hours, weather conditions deteriorated along their flight path to the point Capt. Byrd radioed he was not sure of their position because the Bird Dog was not equipped for instrument flight. Further, he reported they were flying at an altitude of 3000 feet and were also low on fuel. Several radar stations tried to get a fix on the Bird Dog, including the one at Dong Ha, but were unable to get a definite fix on its position. However, they were able to maintain constant radio contact with the aircrew. Based on the direction of flight, the primary radar operator advised Capt. Byrd to climb to greater altitude because of rugged mountains peaks in the area the aircraft was believed in. At that point no further transmissions were heard from either Hugh Byrd or Kevin O'Brien. It was believed that the O1G went down in extremely rugged, heavily forested mountains approximately 9 miles east of the South Vietnamese/Lao border, 14 miles southeast of Khe Sanh and 44 miles east-southeast of their base.

Search and rescue (SAR) operations were initiated at first light, but were broken off after a few days due to poor weather conditions. They resumed once the weather cleared, but again failed to locate any trace of the aircraft or its crew. At the time formal search efforts were terminated, Hugh Byrd and Kevin O'Brien were listed Missing In Action.

In August 1975 a refugee reported seeing 2 downed US aircraft in the general area where the Bird Dog vanished. He described one as an F5 jet and the other one as an L19. He was told that two Americans on the L19 were killed and buried 1 kilometer from the crash. However, he was unable to provide information on the exact location of the burial site. The Army feels this report could possibly relate to this loss incident because the O1 was formerly known as the L19. If Capt. Byrd and 1st Lt. O'Brien died in the loss of their aircraft as indicated in this second hand report, then the Vietnamese know where their remains are located and could return them to their families, friends and country any time they chose to. However, if Hugh Byrd and Kevin O'Brien survived the loss of their aircraft, their fate, like that other Americans unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, 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.

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.