Name: Richard Lee Ayers
Rank/Branch: O4/US Air Force
Unit: 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron
Date of Birth: 18 February 1933
Home City of Record: Waterloo IA
Date of Loss: 16 April 1970
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 161400N 1063700E (XC727952)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Category: 4
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: RF4C
Other Personnel in Incident: Robert E. Rausch (missing)
Refno: 1596

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15  from one or more of the
following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with
POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews, Senate Select Committee
report. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2020.


SYNOPSIS: The Phantom, used by Air Force, Marine and Navy air wings, served a
multitude of functions including fighter-bomber and interceptor, photo and
electronic surveillance. The two man aircraft was extremely fast (Mach 2), and
had a long range (900 - 2300 miles, depending on stores and mission type). The
F4 was also extremely maneuverable and handled well at low and high altitudes.
Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest" planes around.

Capt. Robert E. Rausch was the pilot and Major Richard L. Ayers the
Weapons/Systems officer of an RF4C Phantom from the 12th Tactical
Reconnaissance Squadron based at Tan Son Nhut Airbase, South Vietnam. On
April 16, 1970, an RF-4C with a two man crew of Major Ayers and Captain
Rausch departed Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon to conduct reconnaissance
along the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Vietnam as well as
the adjacent area of Savannakhet Province, Laos.  They refueled in flight
and advised their controller that they were heading north to another target
area.  The new target area was known to be a high threat area with 37mm and
other anti-aircraft weapons.  They were last reported over Savannakhet
Province but did not return from their mission and were declared missing in
action.  There were no chutes or beepers located.

Subsequent to their disappearance, Radio Hanoi's domestic service reported
its forces had shot down an RF-4C in the Vinh Linh Special Zone, the North
Vietnamese side of the DMZ, on the afternoon of April 16, 1970.  This report
was correlated to the loss of Major Ayers' aircraft.

On April 17, 1970, a People's Army of Vietnam unit radioed a report
concerning four recent U.S. aircraft shoot downs.  Three of the aircraft
were F-4 and the completely burned remains of one crewman were found in one
F-4 crash site wreckage.  The pilot of the fourth aircraft, an RF-4C, was
also killed.  The portion of this radio message dealing with the RF-4C was
believed associated with Major Ayers' shoot down even though People's Army
forces only reported (one) pilot killed.

In the early 1970's the Pathet Lao stated on a number of occasions that they
held "tens of tens" of American prisoners and that those captured in Laos
would also be released from Laos. Unfortunately, that release never
occurred, because the U.S. did not include Laos in the negotiations which
brought American involvement in the war to an end. The country of Laos was
bombed by U.S. forces for several months following the Peace Accords in
January 1973, and Laos steadfastly refused to talk about releasing our POWs
until we discontinued bombing in their country.

Consequently, no American held in Laos was ever returned. By 1989, these
"tens of tens" apparently have been forgotten. The U.S. has negotiated with
the same government entity which declared it held American POWs and has
agreed to build clinics and help improve relations with Laos. If, as
thousands of reports indicate, Americans are still alive in Indochina as
captives, then the U.S. is collaborating in signing their death warrants.

During the period they were maintained missing, Richard L. Ayers was
promoted to the rank of Colonel and Robert E. Rausch was promoted to the
rank of Major.

According to POW-MIA online accounts, the plane ran low on fuel and missed a scheduled refueling stop. The plane was recovered, but no trace of ...





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On April 16, 1970, an RF-4C Phantom II (tail number 66-0409) with two crew members took off on a reconnaissance mission in the general vicinity of the tri-border area between Laos and North and South Vietnam. During the mission, the aircraft completed an in-flight refueling and reported to the Forward Air Controller that it was moving north to another target area. This was the last known transmission from the aircraft, and it failed to return to base. Searches were made along the flight path but were unsuccessful in locating either crew member. 

Major Richard Lee Ayers entered the U.S. Air Force from Iowa and served in the 12th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. He was the pilot of the RF-4C when it went missing and he remains unaccounted for. After the incident, the Air Force promoted Major Ayers to Colonel.  Today, Colonel Ayers is memorialized on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. 

Based on all information available, DPAA assessed the individual's case to be in the analytical category of Active Pursuit.

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