Name: Robert Wayne Altus
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force
Unit: 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Da Nang AB, South Vietnam
Date of Birth: 07 August 1946
Home City of Record: Sheridan OR
Date of Loss: 23 November 1971
Country of Loss: Laos
Loss Coordinates: 153500N 1065300E (YC058250)
Status (in 1973): Missing in Action
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4E
Other Personnel in Incident: William Phelps, missing
Refno: 1779

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 1990 with the assistance
of one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency
sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources,
interviews. 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. The F4 was selected for a number of state-of-the-art
electronics conversions, which improved radar intercept and computer bombing
capabilities enormously. Most pilots considered it one of the "hottest"
planes around.

Capt. Robert W. Altus was the pilot and 1Lt. William Phelps his
weapons/systems operator which departed Da Nang Airbase as part of a
multi-aircraft flight on an operational mission over Laos on November 23,
1971. When the flight was about 20 miles northwest of Chavane in Saravane
Province, Laos, a large explosion on the ground was seen by flight members.
Efforts to raise Altus and Phelps by radio failed. No parachutes were seen,
and no emergency radio beeper signals heard. Both Althus and Phelps were
classified Missing in Action.

Altus and Phelps are among nearly 600 Americans lost in the "secret war" in
Laos. During the war, the communist 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 agreed to build
medical clinics and help improve relations with the communist government of
Laos, yet has yet to negotiate for the living American POWs the communist
government admitted holding. If, as intelligence seems to indicate, there
are hundreds of Americans still alive in Indochina as captives, then the
U.S. is collaborating in signing their death warrants. Altus and Phelps
could be among those said to be still alive. If so, what must they think of




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On November 23, 1971, an F-4e Phantom II (tail number 69-7562, call sign "Gunfighter 61") with a crew of two departed Da Nang Airfield as one of two F-4s on a nighttime escort mission for an AC-119 gunship over Laos. Near the end of the mission, both F-4s were assigned targets on which to expend their ordnance. After the lead F-4 departed the area, "Gunfighter 61" dropped its ordnance and radioed that it was off the target. It then crashed for unknown reasons near the target, producing a large fireball which was seen by the AC-119 crew. No parachutes were observed, and no emergency beeper signals were received. A search and rescue team located the crash site in the Saravan Province of Laos, but could not recover any crew remains.   

Captain Robert Wayne Altus, who joined the U.S. Air Force from Oregon, served with the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron. He was the pilot of the Phantom when it crashed, and his remains were not recovered. Today, Captain Altus 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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