PANNABECKER, DAVID ERIC
Name: David Eric Pannabecker Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force Unit: 40th Air Rescue/Recovery Squadron, Nakhon Phanom, Airfield, Thailand, Pilot Date of Birth: 21 January 1939 Home City of Record: Womelsdorf PA Date of Loss: 27 March 1972 Country of Loss: Cambodia Loss Coordinates: 140622N 1063350E (XA682585) Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered Category: 2 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: HH53C 10359 Refno: 1805
Other Personnel in Incident: Richard E. Dreher; James Manor; Raymond J. Crow; Raymond A. Wagner (all missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 1991 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. NETWORK 2000 with information provided by David E. Pannabecker, Jr.
REMARKS: CRASH S SEARCH - NO SURV FND - J
SYNOPSIS: Altogether, the HH-53 "Super Jolly Green Giant" was the largest, fastest and most powerful heavy lift helicopter in the U.S. Air Force inventory. In 1967, the Air Force started a development program to acquire a night rescue capability, and by March 1971, it had succeeded in installing a nighttime recovery system aboard five HH53C Super Jolly helicopters in Southeast Asia. The Super Jolly was involved in such famed rescue attempts as the attempt to rescue American POWs held at the Son Tay prison compound near Hanoi in late November 1970, and the assault operation to free the Mayaguez crew in May 1975.
Captain David E. Pannabecker, pilot and Capt. Richard Dreher, co-pilot, were assigned as part of a day rescue mission and departed NKP at 0830 on the morning of March 27, 1972. Pannabecker's Super Jolly was the second aircraft in a flight of two. Aboard the aircraft was the pararescue team consisting of James Manor and Raymond A. Wagner.
Following aerial refueling over southeastern Thailand, they departed the tanker to complete the mission, maintaining interplane communications on FM and UHF radios. The lead aircraft called a "tally ho" on the aircraft they were escorting. When the lead aircraft did not receive an answer, the pilot attempted to find him visually without success. After completing a 180 degree turn, the pilot of the lead aircraft reported sighting a column of black smoke coming from the dense jungle five miles away. Their position at this time was in Stoeng Treng Province, Cambodia, about 10 miles southeast of the city of Siempang.
A pararescue specialist was lowered to the ground at the site of the crash to check for survivors, but due to the intense heat from the burning helicopter, he could not approach near enough to determine if there were crew members inside the aircraft.
Some three hours later a second rescue specialist was deployed in the immediate area, who reported the wreckage was still burning, precluding close inspection. It was never determined if any aboard the Super Jolly survived, but all aboard were declared Killed/Body Not Recovered.
In an attempt to classify the cases of the Missing in Action to determine which cases could be readily resolved, the Defense Department assigned "enemy knowledge" categories to each missing man, according to the liklihood their fates would be known by the enemy. In the case of the downed Super Jolly, Wagner, Pannabecker and Dreher were assigned "Category 2", and Manor and Crow "Category 3".
Category 3 includes personnel whose loss incident is such that it is doubtful that the enemy would have knowledge of the specific individuals (e.g. aircrews lost over water or remote areas). Category 2 includes personnel who were lost in circumstances or in areas that they may reasonably be expected to be known by the enemy (e.g. individuals connected with an incident which was discussed but not identified by name by enemy news media, or probably identified by analysis of intelligence reports.) No explanation has been given as to why the crewmembers were classified differently.
The Americans missing in Cambodia present a special problem. The U.S. has never recognized the government of Cambodia, nor has it negotiated for the release of any Americans captured there. It has generally been believed that any POWs held in Cambodia after the end of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia perished in the genocide committed by Pol Pot in the mid-1970's.
In 1988, the Cambodian government announced that it had the remains of a number of American servicemen it wished to return to the United States. The U.S. did not respond officially, however, because there are no diplomatic ties between Cambodia and the U.S. Several U.S. Congressmen have attempted to intervene and recover the remains on behalf of American family members, but Cambodia wishes an official overture. Meanwhile, the bodies of Americans remain in the hands of our former enemy.
Even more tragically, evidence mounts that many Americans are still alive in Southeast Asia, still prisoners from a war many have long forgotten. It is a matter of pride in the armed forces that one's comrades are never left behind. One can imagine any of the men lost in Cambodia on March 27, 1972 being willing to go on one more mission for the freedom of those heroes we left behind.