Lost Over Laos: A True Story of Tragedy, Mystery, and Friendship

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Da Capo Press, Mar 1, 2004 - History - 276 pages
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In 1971, as American forces hastened their withdrawal from Vietnam, a helicopter was hit by enemy fire over Laos and exploded in a fireball, killing four top combat photographers: Larry Burrows of Life magazine, Henri Huet of Associated Press, Kent Potter of United Press International, and Keisaburo Shimamoto of Newsweek. The remoteness of the crash site made a recovery attempt impossible. When the war ended four years later, the war zone was sealed off and the helicopter incident faded from the headlines. But two journalist colleagues-the authors of this book-returned to Laos twenty-seven years later to resolve mysteries about the crash and pay homage to their lost friends.

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Lost over Laos: a true story of tragedy, mystery, and friendship

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Combat photography is a dangerous business, as this book shows. At its heart is a helicopter crash on February 10, 1971, during the invasion of Laos by the South Vietnamese. Among those killed were ... Read full review

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I suppose that I need to read the book to write a review, so let me title this a review of the event.
It was indeed a foggy Wednesday morning that Feb 10, 1971. We had combined the pilots of the
71st Assault Helicopter Company from a 2 quonset hut billet and shoehorned them into one to house the 51 war correspondents that had come north to cover Lam Son 719 in the now vacated second Quonset hut. We set up cots for the 47 male correspondents and offered to billet the 4 female correspondents at the nearby Evac Hospital in the nurses quarters. I do recall that Gloria Emerson refused to be separated form the "guys" and we brought in a cot for her.
I was a young Lt with a USARV Public Information Detachment and my job was to make sure the correspondents were billeted and fed and were able to get transport to the daily action as best we could. Given the early morning fog each day that week it had been extremely difficult to get anyone out as only the most essential flights were not grounded. On the morning of Feb 10th we, the US Army had nothing flying. Everything non essential was grounded. However the First ARVN had a 4 slick flight to take the G1, G2, G3 and G4 of the First ARVN Division for a look see over Laos. The flight had room for a few others and Huet, Burrowes, Potter and Shimamoto wanted to go.
Our guys from the 71st had realized pretty quickly (the hard way) that there was more antiaircraft power over Laos than we had ever seen outside of N Vietnam, including radar controlled 37s. Our initial losses had established a pretty solid no fly zone (at least at altitudes above the tree tops and under 10,000 feet) in certain areas over Laos. The flight maps had these areas clearly delineated in red grease pen.
I was told later that day that 2 of the ARVN pilots blissfully flew into one of those zones at 1500 feet (normally a safe height when facing only hand weapons) while the pilots of the 3rd and 4th slick followed their maps to break off and around the area housing the heavy antiaircraft guns. Apparently the 37mm fire separated the tail boom of both aircraft. One exploded in mid air and the other went in spinning without its tail boom. Although at that time we had no ground confirmation of the deaths, eyewitnesses said that no one could have survived either crash. A sad day for the correspondent community.
Lam Son 719 was a very sad operation for the 71st also. Within 4-5 weeks the pilot count of the Detachment was cut in half by losses over Laos. In the early days of the operation there actually was little ground resistance but the pilots overflying Laos had more than their hands full. In late January we had 2 Quonset huts full of cots and people. By the end of March it was unfortunately much less crowded.
A tough operation. In very early February I caught a quick flight back to Bien Hoa for some reason. One of my guys on assignment near the Rock Pile asked me to pick up his mail. Although he was scheduled for 3 days of in country R&R he was bailing on that to stay with the Cav Regiment he had been covering. By the time I got back to Quang Tri late the next day, there was no place to deliver his mail except to his parents. He had been riding on the top of an APC when an RPG hit it. R&R would have been better, I suppose. Lot's of people made those kind of decisions.
PS: I did download and read the book. I suppose it could have been the 17th rather than the 71st, I clearly don't remember. As long as I was there I still can't recall the Camp being called Red Devil. I do recall Ms Emerson trying to blow up the outhouse. I also clearly remember the boards laid across the mud we used to get to it. Frankly I had forgotten that the flight had taken off from Khe San not Quang Tri, as I had gotten them the rides from Quang Tri to Khe San not from Khe San onwards. I only now recall that we weren't supposed to put them on birds overflying Laos although it happened constantly. It wasn't like we had MPs in starched fatigues standing around

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About the author (2004)

Richard Pyle covered the Vietnam War for the Associated Press for nearly five years and was bureau chief in Saigon from 1970 to 1973. Now based in New York, he covers politics and breaking news for the AP.

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