SYNOPSIS: The Douglas A4 Skyhawk was a single-seat light attack jet flown by both land-based and carrier squadrons, and
was the US Navy's standard light attack aircraft at the outset of the war. It was the only carrier-based aircraft that did
not have folding wings as well as the only one which required a ladder for the pilot to enter/exit the cockpit. The Skyhawk
was used to fly a wide range of missions throughout Southeast Asia including close air support to American troops on the ground
in South Vietnam. Flying from a carrier was dangerous and as many aircraft were lost in "operational incidents"
as in Combat.
While the Skyhawk was normally a sing-seat aircraft, the "T" model was originally created as a trainer with
two seats and dual controls. However, in Vietnam the Marines developed another equally important use for the TA4F as a fast
moving Forward Air Controller, also known as a "fast FAC," where speed and maneuverability were quintessential for
On 28 October 1968, Marine Major Charles R. Connor, pilot; and Navy then Lt. William E. Ricker, special crew member who
was also assigned to the 1st Marine Air Wing through a pilot exchange program, comprised the crew of a TA4F Skyhawk. This
exchange program allowed pilots from one branch of service to be assigned duty with another branch of service for the purpose
of broadening each one's combat skills. At 1120 hours, the Skyhawk departed Chu Lai Airbase, Quang Tri Province, on a tactical
airborne controller fast FAC mission in the vicinity of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which separated North and South Vietnam.
Their actual area of operation was south of the DMZ in the vicinity of Hue/Phu Bai, Thua Thien Province, South Vietnam. The
terrain in the mission area consisted of the populated coastal plain covered in rice fields to the east of Highway 1, dense
jungle immediately to the west of it and rugged jungle covered mountains rising up from the coastal plain farther to the west.
Enroute to the target area and throughout the mission, the crew made routine contact with several ground and airborne
controlling agencies. With each contact, the crew reported no problems either with the aircraft or the mission. At 1215 hours,
the crew reported the successful conclusion of their mission, then requested and received permission to return to Chu Lai
Airfield by their briefed egress route. This designated return flight path took them slightly out to sea, then south following
the coastline to Chu Lai. The last radio transmission received from Charles Connor and William Ricker was when they crossed
over the shoreline and went "feet wet."
When Major Connor and Lt. Ricker failed to return to base on schedule, a radio check of all airfields they could have
diverted to in an emergency were contacted. When no sign of the Skyhawk was found, a full search and rescue (SAR) operation
was immediately initiated. During the search, one emergency beeper signal was heard, but no voice contact could be established
with the downed crewman. And strangely, even though the return flight path was out to sea and the crew radioed they were "feet
wet," the emergency beeper emanated from the rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 14 miles due south of the
city of Hue, 14 miles southwest of Hue/Phu Bai Airfield, 54 miles northwest of DaNang and 94 miles north-northwest of Chu
Lai. When the aircraft could not be located and no further contact could be established with either crewman, SAR efforts were
terminated. At that time both Charles R. Connor and William E. Ricker were 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 American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout
Southeast Asia TODAY.
Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam and Laos 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 so proudly