Last Known Activity|
On 3 January 1969, Major Bobby G. Neeld and then 1st Lt. Mitchell S. Lane departed Tuy Hoa Airfield, South Vietnam, on a 2-aircraft flight that was forced to divert to Phan Rang Airfield, Khanh Hoa Province, South Vietnam due to adverse weather conditions. Phan Rang Airfield was approximately 100 miles southwest of Tuy Hoa Airfield. The next day, 4 January 1969, Maj. Bobby Neeld was the pilot of the lead aircraft, call sign "Taco 81;" and 1st Lt. Mitchell Lane was the pilot of the #2 aircraft, call sign "Taco 82;" that comprised a 2-aircraft flight on a Troop Assault Preparation mission against enemy positions near a landing zone (LZ).
Taco flight departed Phan Rang Airfield at 0717 hours on the briefed mission and was to return to their base afterward. However, after completing the strike mission, Taco flight was again diverted to Phan Rang Airfield by Tuy Hoa Operational Control due to deteriorating weather conditions. At the time Taco flight changed flight paths, Maj. Neeld had a fuel load of 5400 lbs. and 1st Lt. Lane had 5000 lbs. The fuel requirement for the flight from Tuy Hoa to Phan Rang was 1750 lbs.
As Maj. Neeld and 1st Lt. Lane prepared to depart Tuy Hoa airspace, they requested an in route descent to VFR condition which was disallowed by port call (the flight control center) as their separation from IFR traffic could not be guaranteed. At 0825 hours, Taco flight was given a vector of 160 degrees and radar monitoring was discontinued by the control center.
Radio contact was established with Bobby Neeld and Mitchell Lane when they were over rugged jungle covered mountains approximately 73 miles southwest of Tuy Hoa, 11 miles west-northwest of Cam Ranh Bay Airbase and 11 miles west of the coastline. Weather conditions included winds from 330 degrees at 2 knots, visibility of more than 6 miles. Broken stratus clouds had bases from 200 feet with tops at 3000 feet. There was also a solid cloud overcast layer with its base at 9000 feet along with occasional light rain from the north and with lower visibility in that direction. At the time of their last contact, there was no indication of trouble with either aircraft.
By 1045 hours Taco flight had not landed at Phan Rang Airfield and all other airfields in South Vietnam and Thailand were contacted in the hope they had diverted to one of them instead. Over the next 3 days as weather conditions improved, extensive visual and electronic search and rescue (SAR) efforts were initiated over land and water adjacent to their last known location. These efforts were terminated the evening of 6 January 1969 because of forecasted poor weather conditions in the search area. At the time the formal SAR effort was terminated, both Bobby Neeld and Mitchell Lane were listed Missing in Action.
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE America Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
Pilots and aircrews in Vietnam and Laos were called upon to fly in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.