Name: Robert Larie Hilton
Rank/Branch: E4/US Air Force
Unit: 33rd Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Service Squadron
Date of Birth: 13 January 1936
Home City of Record: Baltimore MD
Date of Loss: 14 March 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam/Over Water
Loss Coordinates: 191958N 1054959E (WG875377)
Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered
Category: 3
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: HU16B
Refno: 0272

Other Personnel in Incident: James E. Pleiman (remains recovered)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 July 1990 from 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.


SYNOPSIS: The HU16 was commonly used as a rescue aircraft over the Gulf of
Tonkin, being equipped to land at sea. Besides recovering crews from coastal
waters, the Albatross was equipped to function as a radio relay station
during rescue operations. The HU16 was later replaced in rescue operations
by the HH3 helicopter which could refuel from the HC130 rescue control
aircraft, and remain on station as long as the Albatross and recover a
downed fler while hovering above him, without risking a landing and takeoff
in the open sea.

Robert Hilton and James E. Pleiman were crewmembers onboard a HU16B
"Albatross" aircraft. On March 14, 1966 the aircraft was struck by hostile
fire while conducting a rescue mission for two F4C crew members. The
aircraft went down over the Gulf of Tonkin east of Nghe An Province, North
Vietnam, and the two men were lost. (It is assumed that the rest of the crew
either was recovered safely or their bodies recovered. Their names are not
included in Air Force accounts of this incident.) The F4C Phantom crew,
fortunately, was rescued.

In December 1988, the Vietnamese "discovered" the remains of James E.
Pleiman and returned them to U.S. control. Since their recovery from a
watery grave would be highly unlikely after 22 years, one can only draw one
of two conclusions - that Pleiman's body was recovered by the Vietnamese
after having washed ashore or was picked up by a Vietnamese boat in the area
- or that Pleiman escaped death and was captured. When and how Pleiman died,
and when and how the Vietnamese "discovered" his remains may have a direct
effect on the fate of Robert L. Hilton.



February 28, 2018


On March 14, 1966, the two-man crew of an U.S. Air Force F-4C Phantom II (#64-0740) from the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 35th Tactical Fighter Wing at Da Nang, ejected after being hit by anti-aircraft fire and caught fire a mile offshore in the Gulf of Tonkin, west of Hon Me Island. A USAF HU-16 Albatross fixed-wing rescue aircraft from the 33rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron attempted the recovery of survivors but was shot down and sunk by enemy mortar fire, leaving six more men in the water for rescue. Aircraft from the carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) attacked the shore batteries and small craft attempting to reach the men in the water. The Kitty Hawk reported four sampans were sunk and over 60 North Vietnam troops killed. Two USS Yorktown (CV-10) SH-3 Sea King helicopters, under the cover of USS Ranger A-1H Skyraider attack aircraft, moved in for the pickup despite heavy fire and rescued five of the eight men in the water. Heavy fire and damage to one SH-3 helicopter forced both helicopters to leave the scene. Under heavy fire, however, a SH-2 Seasprite helicopter from the destroyer USS England (DLG-22) proceeded into the same area and rescued another survivor. The destroyers USS Berkeley (DDG-15) and USS Arnold J. Isbell (DD 869) arrived from search and rescue stations and, receiving heavy fire from shore batteries, returned it in kind. They remained in the area while helicopters continued to search for the two missing airmen from the Albatross. One crew member, A1C James E. Pleiman, was confirmed to have been killed in action. His remains were not repatriated until December 15, 1988, and positively identified March 13, 1989. The other airman, A1C Robert L. Hilton, was never found and remains missing. [United States Naval Operations Vietnam, Highlights, March 1966 at americanlegion318fl.org]


Submitted by William M. Killian





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On March 14, 1966, an HU-16B Albatross (tail number 51-0071, call sign "Bravo") carrying eight crew members took off on a rescue mission in the Gulf of Tonkin. When the aircraft made its water landing to begin rescue operations, it was hit by enemy gunfire and caught fire. The crew abandoned the aircraft and the plane sank shortly thereafter. U.S. Navy helicopters rescued six survivors of the incident, but two crew members were not recovered.

Airman First Class Robert Larie Hilton entered the U.S. Air Force from Maryland and served in the 33rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. He was the radio operator aboard the Albatross when it was lost and his remains could not be recovered following the incident. Today, Airman First Class Hilton 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 Non-recoverable.

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