Location: Pacific Ocean
Surnames/tags: military_and_war vietnam
The Story of What Happened
March 15, 1962, three years before American combat troops were sent to Vietnam, 104 people lost their lives when a charter flight operated by Flying Tiger Line on behalf of the Military Air Transport Service was lost in the Pacific Ocean while en route to Saigon, Vietnam, on a secret mission. No wreckage or remains were ever found.
To this day, nothing has ever been revealed about this mission. The 93 American soldiers are not honored by having their names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, nor have they received any honors in their states or even their hometowns. Their families only received a telegram saying their relative was missing, then later they received a letter saying their relative was presumed dead.
Flight 739 had an eleven-member civilian crew, 93 jungle-trained Army Rangers who were highly trained electronics and communications specialists, and three members of the armed forces of Vietnam. The planned flight was from Travis Air Force Base in California, to Saigon in South Vietnam, with refuelling stops in Honolulu, Wake Island, Guam, and the Philippines.
The Lockheed L-1048 flew from Travis Air Force Base in northern California to Honolulu, Hawaii in 12 hours, received minor maintenance and departed for Wake Island, Guam, where no maintenance required. The plane was on the ground for an hour and a half in Guam, during which it was refueled. The servicemen wore civilian clothes.
Good weather was expected for the six-hour flight to Clark Air Base in the Philippines at an altitude of 10,000 feet. An hour and a half into the flight, the flight crew reported the plane’s location and requested clearance to 18,000 feet, without providing a reason. The next location update, with a cruising altitude of 18,000 feet, indicating that it was above the clouds, was the last transmission from the plane.
An hour later, Guam International Flight Service Station suffered heavy radio static while speaking to another flight and also unsuccessfully attempted to contact Flight 739, which was now overdue on a position report.
Meanwhile, the crew of a supertanker in the vicinity of the plane’s last contact reported seeing a vapor trail go behind a cloud, then an explosion, after which two flaming objects fell into the sea. The ship went to the spot they saw on radar and found nothing. After a massive military search for the missing plane—one of the largest ever conducted—the Civil Aeronautics Board concluded that all occupants of Flying Tiger Flight 739 were presumed dead and no probable cause can be determined.
Many believed that the aircraft may have been sabotaged. The investigation found that the flight line and ramp areas at Honolulu, Wake Island, and Guam were not secure and anyone could enter and access non-military aircraft parked at the airfields. At Guam, the last stop, the aircraft was left unattended in a dimly lit area for some time.
The Civil Aeronautics Board concluded that, as no portion of the aircraft was ever recovered, it was impossible to determine whether mechanical/structural failure or sabotage caused the loss of the aircraft.
The only cargo on Flight 739 was the personal gear of those aboard. Equipment for the mission was being ferried by another Flying Tiger flight in an identical airplane, also leaving from Travis Air Force Base the same day, but traveling a route through Alaska. That pilot appeared to encounter issues on the instrument approach and the plane crashed short of the runway in Alaska. The aircraft caught fire, six crew members were injured, and one died. Pilot error was blamed.
Flying Tiger Line stated at the time that sabotage of one or both planes or a kidnapping of flight 739 were possibilities, but they had no evidence to back up these theories.
Unofficial List of Lives Lost on Flight 739:
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5
SC man was on top secret Army flight lost at sea. Families still wonder why they died, The State, April 29, 2021, by Lynn Riddle.
- This article (web version) includes photos of various soldiers whose lives were lost.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 The Mystery of Flying Tiger Line flight 739, Fear of Landing, The Art of Not Hitting the Ground Too Hard, September 30, 2016, by Sylvia Wrigley.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Stars and Stripes, Unofficial US military passenger list for Flight 739, July 24, 2013.
- The full text of the Civil Aeronautics Board accident investigation report for Flight 739 is available here (searchable database): https://dotlibrary.specialcollection.net/Home [One option: Insure you are in the "Investigations of Aircraft Accidents, 1934 - 1965" File. then Search for File Number "0002" and look for the accident date of "3/15/1962."
- There were dozens of newspaper articles (many front-page coverage) about Flight 739 in March of 1962. A few of them are found as Images to this profile. Often, the AP or UPI was the source.
- The CAB Report adds a few additional names to those listed above:
- Pilot, Captain Gregory P. Thomas, age 48 -- FindAGrave Memorial #206617595
- First Officer Robert J. Wish, age 48 -- FindAGrave Memorial #227137779
- Second Officer Robbie J. Gayzaway, age 39 -- Flying Tiger Line Memorial #227138267
- Flight Engineer George M. Nau, age 38 -- Two FindAGrave Memorials / #205992461 and #227138324
- Flight Engineer Clayton E. McClellan, age 33 -- FindAGrave Memorial #227138408
- Navigator George T. Kennedy, age 45(??) -- appears as "145" in CAB Report
- Navigator Grady R. Burt, Jr., age 33
- Names of individuals serving on the stewardess crew are also listed at this site: https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/tag/flying-tiger-line/
- Senior Flight Attendant Barbara J. Walmsley -- FindAGrave Memorial #227138540
- Flight Attendant Christel Reiter -- Two FindAGrave Memorials / #110735806 and #227138609
- Senior Flight Attendant Hildegarde Muller -- FindAGrave Memorial #227138577
- Flight Attendant Patricia Wassum -- FindAGrave Memorial #227138630
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