Search and Recovery Report 2002/CIL/043, a CH-46A Crash Site Associated with REFNO 0746, Phu Loc District, Thua Thien-Hue Province, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, 6 Through 22 June 2002






Paul D. Emanovsky, MS


U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory

310 Worchester Avenue

Hickam AFB, HI  96853-5530


27 June 2002




27 June 2002





From 6 through 22 June 2002, during the 70th Joint Field Activity (JFA), Recovery Element Four (RE4) excavated a crash site associated with REFNO 0746 in Phu Loc District, Thua Thien-Hue Province, Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV).  RE4 excavated approximately 525 square meters of sediment to an average depth of 0.25 m below ground surface.  The Investigator in Charge (IC) closed the site on 22 June 2002.  RE4 did not recover or receive any remains, personal effects or significant material evidence.




This case involves the 30 June 1967 loss of a CH-46A helicopter (see Figure 1 for an example) while conducting an insertion mission, resulting in five unaccounted-for individuals.  Seven individuals survived the incident and reported that after the aircraft crashed it caught fire with the remaining five crewmembers inside.

On 15 May 2000, Investigation Element One (IE1) investigated REFNO 0746 in Phu Loc District, Thua Thien-Hue Province.  IE1 interviewed one witness who had knowledge of a helicopter crash site.  The witness guided IE1 to a crash site where the joint team recovered material evidence that conclusively correlated the crash site with REFNO 0746.  IE1 did not recover or receive any remains, but did recover several personal effects and both aircrew and troop related items from the surface at the crash site.  IE1 recommended additional investigation.  J2/J3/CILHI analysts subsequently recommended the site for excavation.

From 12 through 30 January 2002, during the 68th JFA, Recovery Element Four (RE4) excavated approximately 388 square meters at the crash site associated with REFNO 0746.  In addition to excavation, RE4 re-interviewed the witness IE1 contacted during the 60th JFA.  The witness confirmed the information he provided the IE, showing the team to the same location and further indicated that the local forest had been logged in approximately 1978.  RE4 left the site open and did not recover or receive any remains, personal effects or significant material evidence.




The REFNO 0746 project area is in central SRV, approximately 45 km from the city of Hue (Figure 2).  This site is located in the vicinity of Lang La Khe Village, Phu Loc District, Thua Thien-Hue Province (Figure 3).  The team gained initial access to the site by a drive of approximately 15 minutes from the Saigon Morin Hotel in Hue to Phu Bai Airport south of the city.  The team then flew to the site via a 10-minute helicopter ride to a landing zone (LZ) approximately 150 meters downhill from the site.  The team later gained access from a base camp located adjacent to the LZ area.  The nearest habitations are approximately 4 km from the site.


The grid coordinates of the site are 48Q ZC 08839 99942, determined by a Garmin III Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, tracking five satellites using the Indian Thailand Datum.  This site is located on map:  Name:  Q. Phu Loc; Sheet:  6541 I; Series:  L7014; Edition:  2-




Map:  Name:  Q. Phu Loc; Sheet:  6541 I; Series:  L7014; Edition:  2-TPC; Scale:  1:50,000; Datum:  Indian Datum 1960.




Figure 3.  Topographic map of REFNO 0746 project area.




The project area is on the side of a low hill (ca. 320 m above mean sea level) with an approximately 30° slope.  Downhill exposure is to the north, looking over the coastal plain in the direction of Hue.  The surrounding upland area is protected forest reserve, with rice paddies in the valley bottoms.  The hillside is well-drained, but has undergone extreme erosion of its topsoil in recent years.


The soil in the site area (Figures 4 and 5) consists of a thin, brown, silty A horizon, grading immediately into an orange C horizon primarily composed of sand, silt, and decayed bedrock.  Bedrock is exposed in and around the site, and is composed of bands of sandstone high in iron content and siltstone.  Root disturbances are common from the trees throughout the site, as are small mammal burrows.  Multiple areas of exposed subsoil (from erosion and other agents) are apparent in the site area.


The site area drapes over a spur of a hill , with slopes dropping on three sides (west, north, and east) from the central site area.  The eastern side of the site terminates at the base of a dry streambed lined with large sandstone boulders.


Multiple factors have affected the site between the time of the loss incident and this excavation.  Several small entrenchments are located due south, uphill from the crash area.  These may be the remains of wartime tunnel entrances, indicating occupation near the crash site at that time.  The 68th JFA recovery element and the current team recovered multiple indications of ordnance expenditure in the project area, further suggesting that the project area was occupied by enemy forces.  Significant scavenging of site materials therefore could have begun as early as during the war.  According to the witness statements obtained during the 60th and 68th JFAs, and as confirmed by visual inspection, the site surroundings were logged out in the late 1970s.  This would have exposed the crash site and allowed wholesale movement of materials from the area.  The witness indicated that most of the helicopter was already gone upon his initial discovery and salvage activities in 1985 (Pokines 2002).  The site has also undergone scavenging between the activities of the 68th JFA and the previous investigation during the 60th JFA.  During the 68th JFA RE4 discovered that a game-trapping trail transected the site area.  This trail was still visible during the 70th JFA.




The excavation team followed standard archaeological procedures.  The 68th JFA team determined the recovery scene perimeter through witness testimony and metal detector prospecting.  Witness testimony and excavation findings, including melted fragments of probable cockpit Plexiglas material, identified the likely aircraft impact point.  The 68th JFA team excavated contiguous 5-x-5-meter units.  The current team adopted the same recovery-scene perimeter and employed the same excavation strategy; 5-x-5-meter units were set up using tape measures along the ground surface from the original datum to the west and south of the previously excavated area.  The IC aligned the excavation grid at 339° (21° west of magnetic north). These units were excavated using shovels, picks, and trowels, starting at the eastern edge of the site area and continuing westward.  Incident sterile soil was reached at a normal maximum depth of 0.25 m below the original ground surface.  The team passed all sediments through ¼-inch wire mesh, with US personnel examining the contents of each screen.  RE4 excavated approximately 525 square meters during the 70th JFA. The final area excavated during the 68th and 70th JFAs covered approximately 913 square meters.

The IC, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician and Life Support Analyst examined all artifacts recovered from the site (see Archaeological Findings section, below).  The team photographer produced a photographic record using 35 mm negative film and digital photography before, during, and after excavation.





RE4 did not recover or receive any remains, life support materials, personal effects, or significant material evidence.  Excavation of the REFNO 0746 crash site yielded few finds of any kind.  Scattered shrapnel was recovered throughout the excavation area (Figures 9, 10, 11 and 12) as well as other fragments of expended ordnance.  A few pieces of aircraft wreckage were recovered, scattered throughout the excavation area, with the largest and densest of these concentrated on the downhill margins of the site area (trapped against natural rock barriers).  Melted Plexiglas-like material was also found during the 68th JFA in the probable aircraft impact area.


Items of explosive ordnance recovered during the 68th JFA in and around the site consisted of:  (1) shrapnel from 105 mm M-1 howitzer rounds; (2) multiple fragments of 81 mm mortar rounds; (3) multiple fragments of 2.75 in HE rockets; (4) multiple fragments of RPG2 rounds; (5) multiple small caliber projectiles, possible non-US origin; (6) one 7.62-x-51 mm small arms round; (7) multiple M-16 rounds; and (8) two small components of an M-16 rifle.  Additionally during the 70th JFA, RE4 recovered: (1) one .38 caliber casing; (2) two 7.62 mm tracer rounds; and (3) two 7.62 mm casings.




During the 68th JFA RE4 excavated the eastern side and part of the central portion of the crash site associated with REFNO 0746.  During the 70th JFA RE4 completed excavation of the western and central portions of the site.  No remains were recovered from this site by the investigative or excavation teams.  The IC suspended operations and closed the site on 22 June 2002. Only minor traces of debris consistent with the aircraft type in question were recovered through excavation.  Current evidence, including investigation and excavation findings, and REFNO 0746 survivor statements, suggest the five unaccounted-for individuals may have been removed from the aircraft by unknown persons shortly after impact.





Investigator in Charge/Anthropologist




Ripley, T.

1998    Jane’s Pocket Guide:  Modern Military Helicopters.  Harper Collins Publishers, London.

Pokines, J.

2002    Interim Search and Recovery Report 2002/CIL/005, a CH-46A Crash Site Associated with REFNO 0746, Phu Loc District, Thua Thien-Hue Province, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, 12 Through 30 January 2002.  Report on file at USACILHI, Hickam AFB, HI.