THORESEN, DONALD NELLIS Remains identified 12/20/02 Dod Dates: Remains Returned 07/10/01, ID 05/20/03
Name: Donald Nellis Thoreson Rank/Branch: E5/US Navy Unit: Observation Squadron 67 Date of Birth: 15 January 1937 Home City of Record: Detroit MI Date of Loss: 11 January 1968 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 171800N 1055258E (WE938123) Status (in 1973): Killed/Body Not Recovered Category: 3 Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: OP2E Refno: 0982
Other Personnel In Incident: Denis Anderson; Richard Mancini; Delbert Olson; Michael Roberts; Gale Siow; Phillip Stevens; Arthur C. Buck, Kenneth Widon (all missing)
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 2003.
REMARKS: CRASH CNFM - WE 938123 - NO SERCH -J
SYNOPSIS: The Lockheed P2 "Neptune" was originally designed for submarine searching, using magnetic detection gear or accoustic buoys. Besides flying maritime reconnaissance, the aircraft served as an experimental night attack craft in the attempt to interdict the movement of enemy truck convoys. Another model, the OP2E, dropped electronic sensors to detect truck movements along the supply route through Laos known as the "Ho Chi Minh Trail".
The Ho Chi Minh Trail was used by the North Vietnamese for transporting weapons, supplies and troops. Hundreds of American pilots were shot down trying to stop this communist traffic to South Vietnam. Fortunately, search and rescue teams in Vietnam were extremely successful and the recovery rate was high.
Still there were nearly 600 who were not rescued. Many of them went down along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the passes through the border mountains between Laos and Vietnam. Many were alive on the ground and in radio contact with search and rescue and other planes; some were known to have been captured. Hanoi's communist allies in Laos, the Pathet Lao, publicly spoke of American prisoners they held, but when peace agreements were negotiated, Laos was not included, and not a single American was released that had been held in Laos.
Delbert Olson was the pilot of an OP2E electronic observation aircraft assigned to Observation Squadron 67 at Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. On January 11, 1968, he and a crew of eight, including Denis Anderson, were dispatched on an armed reconnaissance mission over Laos. The aircraft lost radio and radar contact at 9:57 a.m. When the plane failed to return within a reasonable time, an extensive visual, electronic and photographic search was conducted in the area of the aircraft's last known position.
On January 23, a USAF A1 located a suspected crash site. On January 25th an O2 from the 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron photographed the site. Using the photographs for photo interpretation, and in conjunction with visual air reconnaissance of the site, it was determined that the wreckage was that of Commander Olson's aircraft. The aircraft crashed on the northern side of a sheer cliff, 150 feet below the 4583 foot summit line, about 15 kilometers northeast of Ban Nalouangnua, Khammouane Province, Laos. It was decided that all indications were that there were no survivors and most probably no identifiable remains. Because of the heavy jungle canopy, irregular terrain and the close proximity of enemy forces, no ground team was inserted to inspect the crash site for remains. There was no indication as to the exact cause of the crash.
All members of the crew were placed in an initial casualty status of Missing In Action. On February 23, 1968, the crew was placed in a casualty status of Presumed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
The crew of the OP2E lost on January 11, 1968 are among nearly 600 Americans lost in Laos. Because Laos was not a party to the agreements ending the war, no Americans held by Laos were ever released. Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports have convinced many experts that hundreds of Americans are still being held captive in Southeast Asia. While the crew of the OP2E may not be among them, one can imagine them proudly flying one more mission to bring home the evidence needed to bring them to freedom.
CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii (NNS) -- On a January morning in 1968, a Navy commander, three lieutenants junior grade, four petty officers second class and a petty officer third class climbed aboard their OP-2E Neptune aircraft and prepared for take-off. They would not live to see the sunset that day.
The nine Sailors were members of Observation Squadron (VO) 67, a squadron that operated secretly out of an airbase in Thailand during the Vietnam War. Their mission was to pepper the jungles of Laos with tiny sensors so sensitive they could be used to detect slight movements, or listen in on conversations. The sensors would be used to collect intelligence.
That January morning, three planes left the airstrip in Thailand with the same mission, but only two safely returned to the airfield. It was reported by another pilot that the last words of third aircraft's mission commander were simply, "I'm going down through this hole in the clouds."
What happened next is still a mystery. Whether they came under enemy fire or had a piece of navigation equipment malfunction is anyone's guess. What is known is that their plane went down on the side of a cloud-covered mountain in Laos, nearly a mile above the jungle floor, and for more than 30 years they lay untouched -- until now.
Thirty-four years later, Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 1st Class (AW) Nicholas Williams and Chief Hospital Corpsman (FMF) Paula Africa are searching for their fallen shipmates. The two are strapped in and nearly dangling at times from the side of a mountain, only 100 feet from the summit. They systematically search through grids on a 35-degree mud and rock-filled slope.
"This is an outstanding mission," Williams said as he passes buckets of dirt and chunks of aircraft wreckage to Africa. Williams is permanently assigned to Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Detachment, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., and volunteered to work as a life support technician augmentee with Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (JTF-FA) based in Hawaii.
The Bagley, Wis., native said he gladly volunteered, but wasn't sure if he could join the recovery teams that search for missing-in-action (MIA) 10 times each year in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. "My senior chief could only pick two of us to go out on this mission," the 16-year Navy veteran recalls, "and I was lucky enough to be selected."
The mountain was initially deemed too dangerous to attempt to excavate in 1996 when an investigation team located the crash site; but with the help of Army mountaineers, they decided it could be done. Last year, the crash site was excavated for the very first time; remains were repatriated and are in the identification process. This time around, it is fresh dirt, undisturbed remains and new pieces of the puzzle.
Williams and Africa are no strangers to the POW/MIA search-and-recovery efforts in Southeast Asia.
"I've done one mission in Vietnam and this is my second in Laos," said Africa. The Keuka Park, N.Y., native confesses, this mission is the most rewarding yet. "This is my third mission overall, but its the first time we've found remains at a site that I've been at. It's just so exciting because you know it may bring closure to a family that's been waiting for answers for a very long time," the chief said while taking a break from the bucket line.
Africa is assigned as a team medic at the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii. The lab works very closely with JTF-FA and is responsible for positively identifying remains, either through dental records or coordinating mitochondrial DNA testing, if the bone fragment is large enough for the DNA-testing process.
While the team lives in a makeshift base camp on the mountain and hikes roughly 45 minutes up to the excavation site every day, their spirits remain high. It's the second time this site has been excavated, and this trip alone has been a huge success.
Some of the possible remains they've found are piece of a mandible with teeth still attached, several individual teeth, other pieces of osseous material and the largest piece, possibly a tibia. Teeth are considered the most sought after, because according to the anthropologists, they provide the best chance of making a positive identification.
Some of the most powerful material to hold and touch are items from their era. Some of the things the team recovered during this trip include wrist watches, a .38 caliber pistol, General Motors car keys, a 35mm camera, coins, a charred and slightly mangled pewter second class crow from a Sailors utility cover and dog tags.
To the Sailors working on the mountain, this particular site carries a lot of meaning and emotions. "Every mission is important," the chief insists, "but this mission -- searching for Sailors -- it's definitely extra special to me."
Today, there are still 399 Sailors and 242 Marines who haven't come home from the war in Southeast Asia.
Remains of Crew in Navy Plane Crash ID'd
The Associated Press Friday, December 20, 2002; 8:55 AM
HONOLULU - The remains of all nine crew members aboard a U.S. Navy patrol plane that crashed in Laos during the Vietnam War have been identified, the Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, announced Thursday......
2002 The Associated Press