Sunday, May 29, 2011

On Memorial Day We Remember

On Monday, April 14, 1969 at 5:00 PM EST (1544Z), a Navy EC-121M reconnaissance aircraft (PR-21/BuNo 135749) of Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1) with a crew of 31, took off from Atsugi Naval Air Station, Japan on a routine Beggar Shadow SIGINT collection mission over the Sea of Japan. The EC-121M had been directed to proceed to a point off the Musu Peninsula, where the aircraft was to orbit for several hours along a 120-mile long track, then land at Osan Air Base in South Korea.

This route had been flown by VQ-1 EC-121Ms for two years without incident, and the mission had been graded as being "minimal risk." Six hours after takeoff, the crew of the EC-121M transmitted a routine radio-teletype activity report at 11:00 PM EST, then disappeared off USAF radar screens at 11:50 PM EST, 90 miles southeast of the North Korean port of Chongjin. Air Force radars and USAFSS COMINT intercept operators in Korea had detected two NKAF MiGs flying towards the unarmed EC-121 prior the plane's disappearance. The USAFSS listening post at Osan attempted to warn the aircraft's commander by transmitting a mission abort signal at 11:46 PM EST. But the MiGs caught up with the slow flying aircraft as it turned for home 90 miles southeast of the North Korean port city of Chongjin.

The MiGs shot the EC-121 down at 11:47 PM EST. All 31 crewmembers were killed, including nine NAVSECGRU cryptologists. They were

CT3 Gary R. Ducharme, USN
CT3 John A. Miller, USN
CTI John H. Potts, USN
CTC Frederick A. Randall, USN
CTC Richard E. Smith, USN
CT3 Philip D. Sundby, USN
LT Robert F. Taylor, USN
CT2 Stephen J. Tesmer, USN
SSgt Hugh M. Lynch, USMC

For a full list of Naval Cryptologists lost in action since the end of World War II, see my Memorial Day post from 2009.