MIA Facts Site

The Myth
The Fact

Summary.  On 21 December 1972, an AC-130/SPECTRE gunship, callsign SPECTRE 17, was shot down over Laos.  Of the 16 people on board, two survived when they were blown from/jumped out of the rear of the aircraft.  All others died in the explosion and crash.  A myth has built up about this loss, claiming that several of the men on the bird survived, were captured, and were never released at the end of the war.  This article addresses the myth and presents the facts.

The AC-130 Gunship

The best way to learn about the AC-130 gunship is to read Frank Vaughan's unofficial AC-130 gunship site.  Visit this URL -- please return when you have finished learning about this fine weapons system.

Frank Vaughan's Unofficial USAF Gunship site

The SPECTRE 17 Myth

Now that you are an expert on the AC-130 SPECTRE gunship, read this article.  It looks good and sounds even better.  It's quite convincing -- there's just one problem -- it's largely horseshit.  This is the website of one Jennifer Martinez, a proud member of the MIA "activist" cult.  On this website you will find a few facts about the loss of SPECTRE 17 and a lot of foolishness.   Read the site and return here:

Jennifer Martinez's SPECTRE 17 Fairy Tale

UPDATE ( 15 November 2005).  I just visited Jennifer Martinez's site -- she has changed her URL -- if you click on the link above you will be directed to the new site.  Meanwhile, this is a link to her site.  http://www.jenmartinez.com/mt/     Check it out -- this woman is a nutcase -- read her diary and messages "Jennifer sends" along the left side of the pages -- and this is the type of loon who is typical of the MIA "activists".

The SPECTRE 17 Facts

The short version

The short version of the facts about SPECTRE 17 is simple:  The aircraft was hit by 37-mm anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire.  The 37mm round explodes on impact and the rounds that hit  SPECTRE 17 ruptured a fuel tank or fuel lines, as well as cutting intercom, hydraulic, and liquid oxygen lines.  Aviation fuel and hydraulic fluid were spilling into the cargo compartment.  Liquid oxygen remains liquid only under pressure so with a ruptured LOX line, nearly pure oxygen gas was spewing into the cargo compartment  -- aviation fuel, hydraulic fluid, and almost pure oxygen make a powerfully explosive mixture needing only a spark to set if off.

At the rear of the AC-130 is a large ramp that lowers to allow vehicles to drive into the aircraft and to facilitate the loading of cargo and people.  The ramp is split into two parts -- the top moves up and the bottom lowers to provide a ramp for driving into the cargo compartment.  At the time SPECTRE 17 was hit, the bottom ramp door was up and the top door open.  Three crewmembers were sitting on the edge of the ramp with their legs hanging off into the slip stream.  Several other crew members were at the base of the ramp when the plane exploded.  Two crewmembers -- Williams and Stevens -- pushed themselves off/were blown off the edge as the plane lost its left wing and went into an immediate left spiraling dive.  With the ramp door up and the plane spiraling nose down, it would have been an impossible climb up the ramp and out -- all the other crewmembers were thrown forward into the exploding aircraft.

Williams and Steven both nearly landed in the burning wreckage.  Upon hitting the ground, these two men activated their strobe lights and beepers and both put out calls on their survival radios.  Another gunship, SPECTRE 07, along with several other aircraft, converged on the site.  Williams and Stevens were rescued.

In 1985, the crash site was excavated and human remains -- including dental remains -- and crew-related equipment were found buried in the wreckage.   From the analysis of the remains and material recovered from the wreckage, all the missing men were identified, none of them got out of the aircraft.  Some of the families challenged the identification and sued.  The local court ruled in favor of the families on procedural, not scientific, grounds.  On appeal, the lower court was overrruled and the identification stands.

Pieces of the myth

Now, let's deal with bits and pieces of the myth -- the myth is what you read on Jennifer Martinez's website.

The audio tape -- what it really says

The crew of SPECTRE 07 had a tape recorder connected to the intercom system of their aircraft and they made an audio tape of their activities and observations as they flew to the site of the SPECTRE 17 crash and attempted to locate survivors.  I have a copy of that audio tape; it is the same audio tape that is misrepresented on Martinez's site.   Here are some of the details on the tape that are misrepresented.

MYTH:  "There were strobes everywhere." 



Each crewmember carries a small strobe light.  When turned on, it emits a very bright flash of light every few seconds.  The strobe has two modes -- visible, in which it emits a white light, and IR, in which it emits an infrared light that is invisible to the eye but visible on infrared sensors -- which all the AC-130s had.  When crewmembers hit the ground, they would activate their strobe so rescue aircraft overhead could see them.  On the audio tape, the crew of SPECTRE 07 can be heard identifying what they believe to be several strobes. 


At several points, after the crew of SPECTRE 07 has established radio contact with the two men on the ground, they tell everyone on the ground to turn off their strobes -- at which point two of the lights on the ground go off.  The crew of SPECTRE 07 investigates a little more and realizes that what they think are other strobes are actually flashes of light from 20-mm ammunition from SPECTRE 17 cooking off and exploding.


At one point, after the crew of SPECTRE 07 has established radio contact with the two men on the ground, they tell everyone on the ground to turn off their visible strobes and activate the IR mode.  When this happens, the SPECTRE 07 crew observed TWO IR strobes.


Crews on other aircraft, including the rescue helicopter that picked up Stevens and Williams, concurred that the "other strobes" were nothing more than small fires on the ground and ammunition from SPECTRE 17 cooking off.

MYTH:  "There were beepers everywhere." 



Each crewmember carries a "beeper."  This is a small radio transmitter that transmits a beeping signal when activated.  The beepers are on a fixed frequency and all aircraft carry a receiver that monitors this emergency frequency.  Aircraft can home in on the beeper and locate downed crewmen.     When crewmembers hit the ground, they would activate their beepers so rescue aircraft overhead could hear and locate them. 


On the audio tape, the crew of SPECTRE 07 can be heard identifying two -- TWO -- beepers.


Almost immediately, the crew of SPECTER 07 established radio contact with Williams and Stevens.  SPECTRE 07 tells the two men on the ground to turn off their beepers so they ( 07 ) can listen for other beepers.  When the two beepers are turned off, no other beepers are heard.

MYTH:  "The 'jump bell' from SPECTRE 17 can be heard on the tape."



The AC-130 is a modified C-130 -- the backbone aircraft of the Air Force's tactical cargo airlift fleet.  Every Army paratrooper who ever jumped out of an airplane has jumped from a C-130.  Above the jump door -- the side door -- of the C-130 are two lights -- red and green.  There is also a small horn.  When the time comes to jump from the aircraft, the green light comes on, the horn gives a short burst, and the airborne guys step out the door.  The AC-130 had a big bell -- sort of like the old metal school bell -- mounted on one of the bulkheads, used as an alarm signal.


Ms. Martinez claims that the "jump bell" from SPECTRE 17 can be heard on the audio tape.  Her implication is that the bell is the order to jump, everyone jumped, Williams and Stevens were rescued, and other crewmembers were captured.   Horseshit.  I am supposed to believe that an aircraft has been hit by exploding 37-mm AAA rounds; fuel and hydraulic fluid are spilling into in the cargo compartment (one of the rescued crewmen said "sloshing around the cargo compartment"); a ruptured LOX line is adding nearly pure oxygen gas to the mixture; the whole thing explodes into a ball of fire; and the crew is sitting around waiting for someone to ring a bell so they can jump???  Right.


In the first place, the "jump bell" is heard on the tape AFTER -- that's AFTER -- SPECTRE 17 is nothing but burning wreckage spread all over the ground.


In the second place, the "jump bell" referred to on the tape is, in fact, a loud "whooping" alarm from Williams's and Stevens's survival radios. The survival radio has a function whereby, when the guy using it pushes his push-to-talk button, the radio gives a "whoop" -- to get the attention of anyone overhead.

MYTH:  "Everyone was ready to jump."



On the Martinez site is a statement from one of the survivors in which he says words to the effect that "Everyone was ready to jump."


This statement forms the basis for Martinez's claim that everyone bailed out of the aircraft.  Hardly.  What Ms. Martinez neglects to include is the follow-up debriefing and statements by the two survivors in which they state without equivocation that they were the only two people who got out of the aircraft.

MYTH:  "Stevens and Williams evaded capture."



There was no enemy activity around.  Stevens and Willimas were picked up by rescue helicopters without encountering any enemy forces.

MYTH: ". . the crash site was visited by either friendly indigenous forces and/or a US Search and Rescue (SAR) team who found and photographed 2 piles of bloody bandages and 5 deployed parachutes."



Nothing of the sort happened.  A small unit of indigenous forces made their way to the crash site the morning after the crash.   When they arrived, they encountered a small PAVN unit and a firefight broke out.  The indigenous unit reported no signs survivors.  The "bloody bandages" appeared to be PAVN bandages from one or more PAVN wounded during the firefight.


The indigenous troops did not report any deployed parachutes.


How can I be so certain?  In the DIA POW-MIA Office -- and now in the Defense POW-Missing Personnel Office -- is a former Royal Laotian Army general officer, General Soutchay.  Soutchay worked for me for several years and we had many long conversations.  It was Soutchay's troops who went to the crash site.  He was quite clear as to what they found at the site.

MYTH:  The "evader symbol."



Ms. Martinez's site includes a photograph -- taken by a reconnaissance drone -- of some letters stamped out in the grass in Laos.  She claims that this symbol was put there by USAF Captain Thomas Hart, a crewmember on SPECTRE 17.  Read this article for the facts about this symbol. 

MYTH:  "Lies by the Air Force."



Finally, Ms. Martinez's site contains an image of a written statement made by one  Doug Wandoff, a crewmember off SPECTRE 07.   Also included here is a claim by Wandoff that he was forced by the USAF to sign a false statement.


Wandoff's claims are nonsense.  EVERY OTHER CREWMEMBER OF SPECTRE 07 reported essentially what Wandoff said in his statement.  His statement was made the day after this incident -- when it was fresh in his mind.  Not one other crewmember of SPECTRE 07 has recanted his statement and not one has claimed that he was pressured into signing a statement. 


SPECTRE 07 was in radio communications with SPECTRE 17 when 17 was shot down.  SPECTRE 07 had a normal crew of 12 - 14 people   EVERYONE OF THEM MADE A STATEMENT THE NEXT DAY AND EVERY CREWMEMBER FROM SPECTRE 07 SIGNED HIS STATEMENT..   Ms. Martinez's site contains only the statements of Wandoff (from SPECTRE 07) and Williams (survivor from 17).  This fact raises the following QUESTIONS(1) Why does Ms. Martinez not publish the statements by the other SPECTRE 07 crewmembers and their present-day comments -- why does she persist in featuring ONLY Wandoff's claims? After all, she published statements by two crewmembers, she must have the rest of the statements -- why not post the whole story?   (2) Why does Wandoff claim the USAF made him sign a false statement?  Well, the answer to these questions is known only to Wandoff and Martinez -- but -- here are some facts that may provide a hint as to the answer:


Two other SPECTRE veterans who know Wandoff have told me: "The man is a fool."


Prior to the making the statement that is now on the website, Wandoff had a different statement on Martinez's site in which he claimed he was not even there, his crew was not there and he was not present during the rescue.  The FACT that SPECTRE 07 was on the scene immediately is well-documented and is attested to by every person who had anything to do with the rescue effort.  After SPECTRE veterans complained to Ms. Martinez about Wandoff's loony claim that he was not there, she modified the site with his current bogus statement.


 Wandoff lives in North Carolina; Martinez previously lived in Illinois.  Eighteen months ago (early 2000) Martinez moved to North Carolina after which Wandoff's statement was added to the web site. Coincidence?

Jerry Mooney's contributions to the myth: 5/13

Ms. Martinez's site quotes liberally from former USAF Master Sergeant Jerry Mooney.  Mooney was a member of the USAF Security Service -- he was a traffic analyst, meaning that he read translations of intercepted radio communications and analyzed the intercepts.  Mooney has become quite a hero among the MIA activist cult because of his claims that he analyzed intercepted communications proving the US POWs were shipped off the the Soviet Union.  Read this article about another of Mooney's fiascoes .

Mooney was invited to testify before the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs.  The activists could hardly wait for Mooney to blow the lid off the cover up.  He testified in open session and spent several hours being questioned by SSC staff, many of whom had a backgrounds in intelligence.   To be kind to Mooney, this is what the SSC report said about him and his claims:

The Committee benefited from the insights of a retired NSA SIGINT analyst, Senior Master Sergeant Jerry Mooney (USAF-retired). During the war, SMSgt. Mooney maintained detailed personal files concerning losses of aircraft and downed airmen. Unfortunately, those personal files did not become part of the archived files maintained by the NSA and have been lost. Although SmSgt. Mooney has sought to reconstruct some of that information from personal memory, the loss of the files makes it impossible to check those recollections against the contemporaneous information.

The Committee found no evidence to substantiate claims that signals intelligence gathered during the war constitute evidence that U.S. POWs were transferred to the Soviet Union from Vietnam.

. . .

Under questioning by one Committee Member during the January hearing, Mooney admitted that he never had "direct information" that American POW's were taken to the Soviet Union. In response to another Committee member's question, he said that he "saw no evidence that they [prisoners] went to the Soviet Union." On several occasions during his testimony he said that he believed that American prisoners had been taken there, but he was unable to provide any conclusive proof to the Committee to support his judgment.

The SSC investigated Mooney's claims and concluded he had nothing to offer. 

Ms. Martinez's site quotes Mooney as claiming that there is, in intercepted radio communications, a reference to "5/13" indicating that of 13 crewmembers, 5 were captured.  I don't know the answer to this question, but, I will venture a suggestion.

The AC-130 gunships were used mainly to interdict traffic along the "Ho Chi Minh Trail."  The Trail was a network of footpaths and roads that crossed into Laos from northern Vietnam, moved down the eastern edge of Laos, and crossed in southern Vietnam, feeding men and material into the war in South Vietnam.    US aircraft operated over the eastern edge of Laos, attempting to shut down or slow down the flow of men and supplies into South Vietnam. 

The North Vietnamese army -- the People's Army of Vietnam -- PAVN -- managed the Trail with an organization designated Group 559 as the senior command responsible for operating the Trail.  Group 559 divided the trail into several segments. Each segment was controlled by a military station, called in Vietnamese a "Binh Tram." By the 1970s each binh tram controlled a segment approximately 50-80 kilometers long, so that a vehicle could traverse the distance in one night - depending on weather, US air operations, etc. 

The binh trams were numbered -- BT 6, BT 13, BT 5, etc.   Group 559 went through a major reorganization in about March 1968.  The reorganization led to the creation of a few new Binh Trams, and the redesignation of all the existing Binh Trams.  All of the Binh Trams in the corridor through the eastern edge of Laos were redesignated 3X (BT 2 became BT 32, BT 3 became BT 33, BT 5 became BT 35, etc.).  All Binh Trams at the border crossings between NVN and Laos received designations in the teens (BTs 12, 14, 19).  The one exception was BT27, which was located near a border crossing just west of the western end of the DMZ.  All Binh Trams at the border crossings between Laos and SVN received designations in the 40s (BT 41, BT 42, etc.).  All Binh Trams in Cambodia received designations in the 50s.  

Each binh tram, in turn, controlled several commo-liaison stations - each located about a one night foot march from the other. Thus, binh tram 13 would have subordinate commo-liaison stations 1, 2, 3, etc.  In communications, these commo-liaison stations would be identified by their designation and the designation of their parent binh tram.  I believe this is the origin of Mooney's claims regarding "5/13" -- either or both the commo liaison station and the binh tram would have reported on the downing of the US aircraft -- and they would have signed the message with an identifier -- 5/13 or 13/5.   Further, other binh trams may have reported on the downing of SPECTRE 17 or may have relayed messages regarding the shootdown.   Thus, the "5/13" notation appears to be nothing more than a message routing number or  identifier.  ( Besides, there were not 13 people lost on SPECTRE 17 -- there were 16 on board, two rescued, leaving 14 who went in with the aircraft. )

The George MacDonald caper

Ms. Martinez's site is a tribute to USAF Captain George MacDonald, a crewmember on SPECTRE 17.  MacDonald perished in the crash of SPECTRE 17.    MacDonald's mother was the subject of a cruel hoax in the 1970s, involving MacDonald's mother, two shady characters claiming to be Russian intelligence agents, and an American holy-roller preacher.

Reverend Lindstrom

One of the earliest "activists" to emerge on the MIA scene was one Reverend Paul Lindstrom from the Chicago area.  He had previously been active in a group called "Remember the Pueblo Committee" that aimed to gain the release of the Pueblo crew from North Korea.  Later, Lindstrom solicited money for his "Douglas MacArthur Brigade" -- which he claimed was made up of former Marines and mercenaries who were going to Laos to rescue US POWs.

In the fall of 1974, Lindstrom approached MacDonald's mother, claiming that he could arrange a meeting between her and two "intermediaries" who could free her son.  She traveled to Mexico City where she met with two men who showed her a grainy photo that they claimed was her son.  They demanded payments ranging from $25,000 to $500,000 to free him.  Mrs. MacDonald -- a widow -- had no way to raise that kind of money and she asked for more proof -- a letter in her son's handwriting or fingerprints.  The "intermediaries" responded that they needed cash up front.

Mrs.  MacDonald paid nothing and heard no more from these scam artists.

Reverend Lindstrom is still around the Chicago area where he now runs a "home schooling" assistance scam and supports various fringe causes.

The Lindstrom-MacDonald caper is often used by the "activist" cult as proof that MacDonald survived the crash, was captured, and was taken to the Soviet Union -- or somewhere.  Nonsense.  The caper was nothing but a fraud perpetrated by Lindstrom who needs to have the living shit kicked out of him.

(UPDATE:  8 June 2002.   Reverend Lindstrom died at his home in the Chicago suburbs on 22 May 2002; his funeral was on 2 June.  Perhaps the good reverend will now get what he deserves -- a quiet seat close to the fire.)

That's it

Well, folks, that's it.  It's not pretty, but that's it.   Martinez's website is another example of misrepresentations, partial information, unfounded speculation, and outright falsehood.

The crew of SPECTRE 17 -- including the two men who survived -- are heroes.  Their memory and their sacrifice will live on long after the mythology perpetuated by Martinez, Wandoff, and Mooney is dust. 

It is shameful that the sacrifices of these brave warriors is trashed by the likes of Mooney, Wandoff, and Martinez.