KETCHIE, SCOTT DOUGLAS

Name: Scott Douglas Ketchie k075p
Rank/Branch: Captain/US Marine Corps
Unit: Marine Air Group 14, VMA-224,
Carrier Air Wing 15,
2nd Marine Air Wing
USS Coral Sea (CVA-43)

Date of Birth: 19 August 1947 (Birmingham, AL )
Home of Record: Birmingham, AL
Date of Loss: 09 April 1972
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 164800N 1062900E (XD565572)
Click coordinates to view maps

Status in 1973: Missing in Action
Category: 4
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A6A "Intruder"
Other Personnel In Incident: Clyde D. Smith (rescued)

REMARKS:

SYNOPSIS: With the addition of the Grumman A6A Intruder to its inventory, the 1st Marine Air Wing (MAW) had the finest two-man, all-weather, low-altitude attack/bombing aircraft in the world. It displayed great versatility and lived up to the expectations of those who pushed for its development after the Korean War. At the time it was the only operational aircraft that had a self-contained all-weather bombing capacity including a moving target indicator mode. In this role it usually carried a bomb load of 14,000 pounds and was used rather extensively in the monsoon season not only in South Vietnam, but in Laos and over the heavily defended areas of North Vietnam. The Intruder was credited with successfully completing some of the most difficult single-plane strikes in the war, and its' aircrews were among the most talented and most courageous to serve the United States.

Oscar Eight was the code name given to a sector of eastern Laos located in rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 25 miles northwest of the infamous A Shau Valley, Saravane Province, Laos. The area encompassed the junction of Highway 92, which was a primary north-south artery of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Highway 922, which branched off and ran directly east where it crossed into South Vietnam at a strategic point near the northern edge of the A Shau Valley. Oscar Eight was also located at the southeastern end of a large and narrow jungle covered valley that had two primary roads running through it, one on each side of the valley. Highway 92 ran along the west side and Highway 919 along the east. A power line ran parallel to Highway 92 and sometimes crossed it. In addition to the roads and power line, the Hoi An River also flowed through the valley passing the road junction roughly 1 mile west of it.

More American aircraft were downed in this sector than any other place in Laos. This was because burrowed deep in the hills of Oscar Eight was North Vietnamese General Vo Bam's 559th Transportation Group's forward headquarters. It was also the Ho Chi Minh Trail's control center and contained the largest NVA storage facility outside of North Vietnam. Oscar Eight was defended by consecutive belts of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) guns of all sizes that were not only stationed on the ground, but also mounted on platforms in the trees and were expertly camouflaged. Oscar Eight also favored the enemy because the only suitable landing zones were located in a wide bowl surrounded by jungle covered high ground containing AAA guns and bunkered infantry.

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

On 9 April 1972, Major Clyde D. Smith, pilot; and then 1st Lt. Scott D. Ketchie, bombardier/navigator; comprised the aircrew of an A6A Intruder (tail # NL-505; serial #..-155652), call sign "Bengal 505," that launched from the deck of the USS Coral Sea. The section of aircraft was conducting an evening road interdiction mission against NVA traffic along the Ho Chi Minh trail near Tchepone, Savannakhet Province, Laos. The Intruder was armed with 12 MK-82 500-pound bombs and 12 MK 20 Rockeye missiles. Weather conditions in the target area were clear.

As soon as the section of aircraft arrived on station, Bengal Lead contacted the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC) controlling all air operations in the region. After updating Bengal flight, the ABCCC passed control over to the onsite Forward Air Controller (FAC), call sign "Nail," who was responsible for directing all air strikes. Major Smith noted that soon after arriving on station as day turned to dusk, "we saw several trucks on the road trying to get a head start on the evening run down the trail."

Nail directed Bengal 505 to begin its series of attack passes on the NVA convoy. According to Major Smith, "We made two attacks, saw hits on two trucks, and rolled in on our third pass from about 16,000 feet, planning a 45-degree, 500-knot, visual delivery. After we pulled off, I heard more than felt a thump like a door closing. I said something to Scott, but then realized our intercom was not working and he couldn't hear me."

Clyde Smith continued, "The aircraft was doing strange things and almost every warning light in the cockpit was flashing just before we lost electrical power. The nose began to move up and down and independently - I couldn't control the stick. I attempted to turn toward the mountains, and as I turned my head to look that way, I saw a huge ball of flame where the tail was, or had been. Shortly after that, the aircraft went into an inverted spin. When I looked at Scott, he was looking down and reaching for the lower ejection handle. I faced forward, reached up for the face curtain, and ejected." The time was 1920 hours, and the Intruder had been severely mauled by heavy, accurate anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire from entrenched batteries.

Both crewmen safely ejected from the crippled Intruder and descended into the heavily forested mountains approximately ½ mile west of Route 1032, 1 mile east of Route 92, 8 miles west of the Lao/Vietnamese border, 11 miles south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separated North and South Vietnam and 16miles northeast of Tchepone, Savannakhet Province, Laos; and 44 miles west of Quang Tri City, South Vietnam. Further, the area in which Scott Ketchie and Clyde Smith ejected was one of the hottest segments of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In affect, the two men were in a box surrounded by heavily defended roads with over lapping AAA coverage. To complicate matters more, they were within range of two surface-to-air (SAM) sites, less than five minutes from a North Vietnamese MiG base, and there was a low, solid cloud deck over the entire sector.

Major Smith landed next to the burning wreckage. The flames were intense causing the remaining bombs on the Intruder to cook off with shrapnel flying everywhere. Within minutes he heard his wingman pass overhead. He triggered his emergency beeper and made a voice Mayday call, but heard no response. However, what Major Smith was not aware of at the time, all onsite aircraft immediately switched from their strike mission to a visual and electronic search and rescue (SAR) operation and the other pilots reported clearly hearing two beeper signals emitting from the dense jungle below. Further, using direction orienting equipment onboard their aircraft, they were able to pinpoint both men's position.

In his post-rescue debriefing, Major Smith said that in the first minutes after reaching the ground "the sun had just set and it was very dark. There was a lot of noise close by. I assumed it was Scott and almost called out. Somebody or something was moving through the woods in a hurry. About an hour later, I heard shouting and several shots. At that moment I felt certain that he had been captured."

He added, "About 2200 hours, I heard another aircraft nearby and turned on my beeper. A voice speaking perfect English came up on the rescue frequency. He came in clearly, sounded very close, and asked me where I was." I replied, "I'm in the vicinity of the wreckage." To which the voice said, "We'll be there in a few minutes." Clyde Smith continued, "It was totally dark by then, and we had been briefed that no rescues were ever attempted at night. I asked him his call sign, but there was no answer. Nothing like that happened again."

The Intruder continued to burn all night. Major Smith listened to the NVA trucks as they negotiated what sounded like a very rough road. At first light the trucks stopped running. The downed pilot heard people moving about all around him. For the first time he could see that he was in an open area on the side of a small ridge lying against some elephant grass four to five feet high. As soon as he felt it was safe to do so, Major Smith moved into the dense foliage at the bottom of the gully where he remained hidden for the next four days.

At roughly 0900 hours on 10 April, he heard an OV-10 aircraft overhead. After establishing radio contact, Clyde Smith learned the pilot was a Nail FAC specifically searching for Scott Ketchie and him. Shortly thereafter the SAR element with fighter support arrived overhead. Enemy ground fire was intense and all aircraft took a tremendous amount of fire from a large number of AAA sites. "Listening to these professionals calmly going about their job under fire," Clyde Smith remembered, "was something that would stay with me for the rest of my life."

Over the next three days, weather conditions and NVA ground fire made a successful rescue attempt impossible. Early in the morning of the fourth day, 13 April 1972, Major Smith learned there was another massive rescue mission under way some 35 miles east of his location for Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton, the navigator of an EB-66, call sign "Bat 21," that had been shot down on 2 April 1972 during the early stages of the NVA's Easter Offensive. He also took great comfort when he heard Nail 45 proclaim, "It looks good, I think we can do a good tune on you today." Over the next four to five hours there was non-stop bombing and constant chatter on the radio as Navy, Air Force and Marine aircraft worked to dismantle the communist fortifications surrounding Clyde Smith.

About 1700 hours, Sandy 01, the SAR commander, told Major Smith to get ready and stay up on the radio because the rescue helicopter was 5 minutes out. At that stage in the rescue effort Sandy 01 had a total of 7 other Sandy A-1s, 3 or 4 FACs who were controlling 10 to 15 fighters that were suppressing the AAA sites, and 2 Jolly Green rescue helicopters in a holding area 10 miles away.

Overall a combination of 25 to 30 rotary, fixed-wing propeller driven and fast moving jet aircraft were operating in a confined airspace for over an hour dropping all kinds of bombs, rockets, smoke, and cluster munitions. Sandy 01 orchestrated the whole operation, and as Major Smith recounted, "to the credit of everyone involved, not one life or aircraft was lost and no one hit the survivor on the ground!" To his delight, Clyde Smith heard Major Jim Harding, Sandy 01, tell Sandy 02, "Go get Jolly 32 (the lead Air Force rescue helicopter) and bring him in." Capt. Ben Orrell, pilot, 1st Lt. Jim Casey, co-pilot; Sgt. Bill Brinson, crew chief; AM1 Bill Liles door gunner/winch operator; and AM1 Kenneth Cakebread, door gunner; comprised the crew of Jolly Green 32.

As Sandy 02 led the helicopter forward, the pilot fired smoke rockets to mark the downed pilot's hiding place. At the same time Jolly Green 32 began its run-in, enemy gunners opened up with everything they had available. Bill Brinson manned the mini-gun at the helicopter's back ramp while Bill Liles and Kenneth Cakebread manned each of the doors mini-guns. As the helicopter maneuvered over Major Smith's position, Sandy 01 transmitted, "Pull up Jolly, pull up, you're right over the survivor." Neither Capt. Orrell nor any of the other crewmen could spot him. Clyde Smith popped a flare, but the helicopter's downwash pushed the red smoke down into the gully. He flipped the flare over and ignited the night end, which immediately showered him with sparks. When Jolly Green 32's crew still could not find him, Clyde Smith moved upslope and into the open. At the top of the ridge he could see the aircraft's rotor blades cutting off tops of trees and slinging them in every directions.

Finally in all the chaos, Bill Liles spotted Clyde Smith, and said, "I got him, I got him!" Capt. Orrell told him to lower the hoist. As the penetrator neared the ground, Major Smith grabbed it with one hand and snapped the climber's snaplink on his torso harness to the cable. Immediately he felt a tug on his harness as AM1 Liles took up the slack. When Major Smith reached the door, Bill Liles rolled him into the hovering aircraft and said, "Get the hell out of the way" as he swung the mini-gun back into the door opening and began firing in the direction that Clyde Smith had come from. Almost simultaneously, AM1 Liles told Capt. Orrell, "He's in the door, let's get the hell out of here!" As the helicopter pulled away, 4 Sandy's rolled in to deliver non-stop fire against the NVA on the ground. Ninety minutes later, Jolly Green 32 landed at Nakhon Phanom Airbase.

Some time during the first day or so of the SAR operation, 1st Lt. Ketchie's emergency radio stopped transmitting. When voice or beeper contact with him could not be reestablished over the duration of the rescue effort for Clyde Smith, the search was terminated and Scott Ketchie was immediately reported as Missing in Action.

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: "Battalion 12 element …shot into flames an aircraft. The pilot parachuted to the southwest. At command post for Battalion we (vic. Of route 914, south of Tha Me, 1623N 10636E), … prepared to search and capture the pilot and … prepared to strike at rescue forces. ….. At 1530G did the 10th AAA Battalion appeared to burst into flames. If so, report immediately. A SAM Battalion of the 263rd SAM Regiment ….. shot down one aircraft. On 10 April, an unidentified SAM site in the western DMZ area ….. had captured one pilot."

Scott Ketchie is one of nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos. Many of these men were known to be alive on the ground. The Laotians admitted holding "tens of tens" of American Prisoners of War, but these men were never negotiated for either by direct negotiation between our countries or through the Paris Peace Accords which ended the War in Vietnam since Laos was not a party to that agreement.

If Scott Ketchie died in the loss of his aircraft, he has a right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country. However, if he survived and was captured as the intercepted NVA messages state, his fate, like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different. Either way there is no question the Vietnamese know what happened and could return him or his remains any time they had 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 America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.

Fighter pilots in Vietnam and Laos 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.