CAIRNS, ROBERT ALEXANDER
Name: Robert Alexander Cairns
Rank/Branch: E5/US Air Force
Date of Birth: 15 December 1931
Home City of Record: Highland CA
Date of Loss: 17 June 1966
Country of Loss: South Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 125336N 1093123E (CQ398257)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Other Personnel in Incident: Ralph B. Cobbs; Jack I. Dempsey; Stanley J.
Freng; Edward L. Romig; M.J. Savoy; Donald E. Siegwarth; Curtis D. Collette;
Gene K. Hess; Connie M. Gravitte; Oley N. Adams; Larry E. Washburn (all
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 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,15 March
1990. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2020.
REMARKS: EXPLODE AIR & IMPACT SEA - J
SYNOPSIS: On June 17, 1966, a C130E "Hercules" aircraft departed Cam Ranh
Bay, South Vietnam en route to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa on an operational
airlift support mission. Aboard the flight were the crew, consisting of
LtCdr. Ralph B. Cobbs; ADJ2 Curtis D. Collette; YN2 Jack I. Dempsey; ADR2
Stanley J. Freng; Ltjg. Edward L. Romig; AN M.J. Savoy; and Ltjg. Donald E.
Siegwarth. All were assigned to the 7th Air Transport Squadron. Also aboard
the aircraft were U.S. Air Force personnel SSgt. Robert A. Cairns; SSgt.
Gene K. Hess; Capt. Connie M. Gravitte; SSgt. Oley N. Adams; and A1 Larry E.
Washburn, and one other individual.
About 30 minutes into the flight, when the aircraft was 43 miles northeast
of Nha Trang, the crew of a naval gunboat cruising off the South Vietnam
coast observed the C130 explode and crash into the South China Sea. No
hostile fire was observed, and the exact cause of the crash could not be
determined. The vessel arrived at the crash scene only minutes after the
impact and began an immediate search. The accident took place so swiftly
that it must be assumed all aboard perished instantly. Some debris and
wreckage have been recovered including parts of the aircraft and personal
belongings. Only one body was recovered from the crash site. The others are
listed as "Dead/Body Not Recovered."
Cobbs and Siegworth were pilots, and probably the co-pilots of the aircraft,
although this information is not included in public data relating to the
loss. Crew positions of the remaining crew members are not available.
Inexplicably, Cobbs' loss coordinates place him on the coast of South
Vietnam a few miles northeast of Tuy Hoa, while the others aboard are listed
as lost northeast of Na Trang. (This is a difference of about 55 miles.)
Also, the entire crew of the aircraft has been assigned "Knowledge Category
4", while the passengers are in "Knowledge Category 5". Category 5 includes
those individuals whose remains have been determined to be non-recoverable.
Category 4 includes individuals whose loss details, such as location and
time, are unknown and who do not fit into any of the varying degrees of
knowledge other than category 5. No reason for this discrepancy can be
The Americans aboard the C130E are listed among the missing because their
remains were never found to be returned to their homeland. They are among
nearly 2500 Americans who remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam war. The
cases of some, like the C130E crew, seem clear - that they perished and
cannot be recovered, Unfortunately, many others who are missing do not have
such clear cut cases. Some were known captives; some were photographed as
they were led by their guards. Some were in radio contact with search teams,
while others simply disappeared.
Since the war ended, over 250,000 interviews have been conducted with those
who claim to know about Americans still alive in Southeast Asia, and several
million documents have been studied. U.S. Government experts cannot seem to
agree whether Americans are there alive or not. Distractors say it would be
far too politically difficult to bring the men they believe to be alive
home, and the U.S. is content to negotiate for remains.
Over 1000 eye-witness reports of living American prisoners were received by
1989. Most of them are still classified. If, as the U.S. seems to believe,
the men are all dead, why the secrecy after so many years? If the men are
alive, why are they not home?
In our haste to leave an unpopular war, it now appears we abandoned some of
our best men. In our haste to heal the wounds of this same war, will we sign
their death warrants? Or will we do what we can to bring them home?