19 New POW Cases – Part VI
|"I lost sight of the aircraft as I turned to watch
the one parachute, and observed the chute
almost until ground impact...."
Marvin Quist - October 4 1965
|"The other two aircraft lost sight of the
DoD Press Release - November 9, 2006
|"One member of the flight reported seeing
one fully deployed chute... In 1991 U.S.
Investigators in Vietnam interviewed
Information from witnesses conflicts
with information from U.S. Personnel at
the time of the loss....."
|"JPAC's detailed analysis of the debris
and other evidence concluded that the parachute
sighted was the F-4C's drag parachute.
|"The aircraft did not explode in mid-air
but remained intact until impact."
|"Scharf's plane began to disintegrate...."
On November 9th the Department of Defense issued a Press Release announcing the remains of identification of Capt. Charles J. “Chuck” Scharf lost over North Vietnam on October 1, 1965. Sadly, the Scharf family is divided over the accuracy of the identification.
Scharf’s wife Patricia has accepted the identification. Barbara Scharf Lowerison, Chuck’s sister, has serious doubts regarding the identification of the remains. Mrs. Lowerison believes official records and documents relating to her brothers case indicates that he survived the incident.
Scharf, the pilot of an F4-C Phantom, along with his backseater, Lt. Martin Massucci were named in the August 1, 1992 Tourison memo identifying 19 New POW Cases. Referring to the Scharf/Massucci case Tourison wrote: “1 case involving 2 airmen from the same loss incident (MIA-KIA/BNR), one parachute was reportedly seen by a wingman, witnesses in Vietnam have testified that a shootdown correlating to this case involved two bodies seen a the crash site.”
The final report of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs described the Scharf/Massucci incident this way....“After jettisoning their external tanks, one member of the flight reported seeing one fully deployed chute... In 1991 U.S. investigators in Vietnam interviewed several witnesses.... Information from witnesses conflicts with information from U.S. Personnel at the time of the loss who reported observing one fully deployed parachute.”
Shortly before the public announcement of the remains identification, Mrs. Lowerison provided the National Alliance of Families copies of documents relating to her brothers case. Prior to our review of the documents, we believed in all likelihood Capt. Scharf did not eject from the aircraft. After reviewing the documents, we recognized Mrs. Lowerison’s concerns.
The Department of Defense Press Release announcing the identification raised additional concerns. Most striking is the misleading way the witnesses observations are portrayed in the DoD Press Release. According to the Press Release “After he completed two bombing runs, Scharf’s aircraft was hit by enemy fire.
His radio transmission of “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” was heard by the other two aircraft. One radioed “Gator 3, (Scharf’s call sign), you’re on fire, you’d better get out! Bail out, Gator 3.” Scharf’s plane began to disintegrate and a parachute was seen leaving the aircraft. The other two aircraft lost sight of the parachute, and circled the area for about 10 minutes where Scharf’s aircraft had crashed ”
The implication that the witnesses lost sight of the parachute is designed to give the impression that witnesses did not get a good look at it. It is a setup for the last line of the press release.
We stop at this point to review the original eyewitness reporting from one of the two airmen who observed the incident. His statement given October 4 1965, paints a different picture. According to Capt. Marvin Quist; “I heard Capt. Scharf call “Mayday” three times followed by some undistinguishable comment. I told him his aircraft was on fire and to bail out. I observed the external stores leave the aircraft and shortly after, a chute in the same approximate position. The aircraft was in a very steady course toward mountainous terrain. The engines and afterburners appeared to be functioning properly. I lost sight of the aircraft as I turned to watch the one parachute, and observed the chute almost until ground impact. The chute impact point was approximately one quarter mile from heavy mountainous cover. It impacted on level, open terrain about 1 mile from the nearest settlement. I then turned hard to relocate the aircraft and saw what appeared to be the aircraft impact point in mountainous terrain about 3 - 5 miles southeast of where it caught fire. The time period from when we lost sight of the aircraft until we saw the impact area was 45 - 60 seconds. No other fire or smoke was observed . This led me to believe the aircraft remained intact until impact and did not suffer a severe explosion in the air. In my opinion there is a strong possibility that the other occupant bailed out prior to aircraft impact. He had sufficient altitude and it is felt he had sufficient time for a successful ejection.”
Another witness that day was Phil Ordway. In a 1996 letter to Mrs. Lowerison, Ordway offered the following: “I always believed that Marty (Lt. Massucci) got out and Chuck did not. One pilot ejected for sure. The other pilot could have ejected, and we would not have seen him in our turn. A twenty-two foot diameter parachute is pretty small from a mile away.”
We would remind our readers that no one saw Capt. Scott O’Grady’s parachute when he ejected over Bosnia in the late 1990's. Yet, we all know Capt. O’Grady ejected safely and landed uninjured. Failure to observe a parachute does not mean a pilot did not eject from his aircraft.
After obtaining information, in 1991, that Vietnamese witnesses had seen two bodies at the crash site, U.S. investigator visited the site in October 1992. Witnesses led investigators to a sight where they were adamant in their insistence that the two pilots were buried. Investigators found no remains were found at the site indicated by the witnesses. They did find aircraft wreckage which led them to the cockpit area of the crash site.
Recovered from the site were one of Capt. Scharf’s dog tags, an identification card bearing his name, and a “parts of a dental appliance” identified as Scharf’s, along with remains described as “one bone fragment.” Also recovered were a religious medal, a leather wallet, nail clippers, a piece of a watch band and a lieutenant’s (Massucci’s rank) insignia.
U.S. investigators returned to the site in January 1993 and again in 2004. During these visits additional crew related artifacts were recovered. The 2004 visit also located a Captains (Schaf’s rank) insignia.
Based on the wreckage and duplication of pilot related artifacts, a determination was made that both men were on board when the plane crashed.
If that is true, how do you explain the parachute?
The DoD Press Release neatly explains away the witness statements regarding the parachute saying; “JPAC’s detailed analysis of the debris and other evidence concluded that the parachute sighted was the F-4C’s drag parachute.” By stating the parachute observed was the F4-C’s drag chute, JPAC effectively put both men back in the plane.
How, we wondered, could two experienced airmen mistake the F4-C’s drag chute for a pilots parachute? We issued a call for help for information on the F4-C, drag chutes and pilots parachutes. We were swamped with e-mails, from F4 pilots, crew chiefs and ground maintenance crews, as well as pilots of all types of military aircraft.
Using Capt. Quist’s quote.... “I lost sight of the aircraft as I turned to watch the one parachute, and observed the chute almost until ground impact....” as context, we asked the question – is it possible the pilot mistook the drag chute for a pilots parachute?
The general consensus was that while anything was possible, it was highly unlikely that the witnesses mistook the F4-C’s drag chute for a pilots parachute. Here is a small sampling of the responses received.
“I can't imagine that the drag chute could be mistaken for a pilot's parachute. The drag chute would usually remain attached to the tail of the aircraft. If it was ripped off, by the speed of the aircraft or some structural problem it would undoubtedly collapse completely. The normal actuation of the parachute of the crew would, almost always occur only by the crew members ejection from the aircraft. The ejection process is quite colorful, with lots of debris, including the canopy, the ejection seats, smoke, even flame from the rocket motors pushing the seats out of the aircraft. Use of the drag chute, for spin recovery or some tactical purpose could be accomplished, but it is very unlikely that any observer would mistake the drag chute and the parachutes used by the aircrew.”
Another stated: “If a drag chute came out and separated from the aircraft, I think it would not be likely to be confused with a man in a parachute. The chute would most likely collapse and just be a piece of falling cloth.”
Still another stated: I would have to say that although the Peter Principle would say that anything is possible, I would venture to believe that a chute spotted on the ground, or even in the air would most likely be a PERSONNEL chute, and not a drag chute. This makes sense, if you remember that the drag chute was not intended IN MOST CASES to be used in the air. There is always the possibility that the drag chute was dislodged from it's container when the aircraft was hit, but the chances of that happening, and then of that same chute opening in the air and not just tumbling to the ground unopened is pretty slim.”
And another stated: “... If a drag chute was deployed in flight for whatever reason, it would have been torn from the aircraft and just floated to Earth, because the landing speed of the F-4 was less than 200 knots and chutes were then deployed.”
And another stated: “He was looking at the aircraft, then turned to watch the parachute. Were it a drag chute, it would have been attached to the aircraft and he would not have had to turn his head to look at it. Let's say that it was a drag chute and that it came loose from the aircraft. A parachute with no load on it is a rag; it would have fluttered down without filling. If he turned his head and looked at a parachute, it was a pilot's chute.”
And another stated; “I was a crew chief on the "Phantom", specifically, an F-4E based in Korat Thailand. An aircraft's drag chute is about three times the size and weight of a crew chute....if the drag chute deployed in flight, it would most likely be ripped from the aircraft due to the speed and force on the chute. Once separated from the aircraft, it would fall as limp material since their would be no weight to allow it to maintain a parachute profile.”
The DoD Press Release also noted; “Scharf’s plane began to disintegrate....” Yet, Quist stated his belief, based on his first hand observation, that “the aircraft remained intact until impact and did not suffer a severe explosion in the air....”
Lastly, a case summary prepared by DPMO staff, dated Dec. 19, 2001, states; “The aircraft did not explode in mid-air but remained intact until impact.” Intact then, disintegrating now.
Did one or both of the airmen aboard the F4-C get out of the stricken aircraft or were they both on board when it crashed? The sighting of one parachute would certainly indicate someone got out. U.S. aviators who witnessed the incident say at least one man exited the aircraft. But, the Vietnamese witnesses stated they found and buried two bodies at the crash site and pilot related equipment recovered at the crash site indicates both Scharf and Massucci were aboard the aircraft when it crashed. So, who do we believe?
In an attempt to shed further light on the Scharf/Massucci case, we went back to a Pentagon Communique issued 21 August 1985 directed to National Security Advisor Richard Childress. This message outlines “the results of a JCRC analysis of all the loss incidents of Americans remaining unresolved in Vietnam.”
The purpose of the JCRC study was to determine:
“The number of cases involving crash or ground sites which must be surveyed and those which are most likely to require excavation, based upon available file evidence.”
“Those cases in which a site-survey or excavation would be of negligible value, without prior receipt of additional information from the Vietnamese. (This category includes cases involving personnel who Died in Captivity, ejected from the aircraft before it crashed, and were lost in inland waters. Also included are personnel for whom loss locations were not established and those for whom the Vietnamese have provided material evidence.)”
“Losses at sea, which have little chance of resolution.”
“The JCRC analytical breakdown of the Crash / Ground sites (by REFNO NUMBER) in Vietnam follows. These sites are categorized first by location. I.E.. In North Vietnam, South Vietnam or losses at sea. Sub Categories are determined by the circumstances surrounding the incident.”
The memo categorized 335 loss incidents over North Vietnam and 535 incidents in South Vietnam.
Describing incidents, over North Vietnam, with a “firm indication that the aircraft crashed without a crew aboard, the memo states: “Of these, 105 are crash sites involving incidents in which the crew was out of the aircraft. These include cases where parachutes were sighted, oral contact was established, captures were reported, beepers were heard, or there was some other firm indication that the aircraft crashed without a crew aboard. In general, these are the cases for which the Vietnamese would be expected to possess significant information. Most of the cases discussed in the technical meetings (I.E. Warehouse Cases) have been selected from this category. Refnos are as follows....”
Among the 105 cases referenced in this category is Case # 0158, Capt. Charles Scharf and Lt. Martin Massucci. It would seem JCRC the forerunner to JTFFA and now JPAC, clearly had information that had Scharf and Massucci out of the aircraft prior to impact. This would certainly explain Mr. Tourison’s inclusion of Scharf and/or Massucci as one of the 19 New POW cases.
In 1985 JCRC (now JPAC) had “Firm indication that the aircraft crashed without a crew aboard.” Today, a parachute is a drag chute and both crewmen were onboard the aircraft.
Based on multiple mt-DNA testing, the first test involving a sample provided by Sharf’s sister Barbara proved inconclusive. A second mt-DNA test on samples taken from old envelopes, the identification media, and dental apparatus, the “one bone fragment” recovered from the site was identified as Capt. Charles J. Scharf.
There is one more thing, that needs to be mentioned. When investigators arrived at the crash site in October of 1992, they reported “the site had recently been cleared of most vegetation. The team also found evidence of earlier digging in the site....” The JTF-FA report attributed the digging to scavengers. That plane was on the ground for 27 years any salvageable material was long gone. Evidence of digging suggest site salting. It’s been done before. The case of Navy pilot Dan Borah is a prime example.
A document provided by Mrs. Lowerison describes the items recovered during the 1992 and 1993 field activities. According to the report prepared by the Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii, “all artifacts were found in the upper portion of the cockpit area.” Describing the crash site the report states: Despite the affects of long-term erosion, the distribution of wreckage appears consistent with a relatively high velocity crash and to the rear of the cockpit fairly intensive burning.”
Continuing, the report described the condition of the personal effects stating; “the personal effects recovered from the cockpit area are not burned. For example, the condition of the dog tag suggest that it was torn from its chain but otherwise it shows little evidence of heat-induced color change such as was clearly evident on aircraft parts aft of the cockpit. Moreover, the identification card was laminated in plastic and the wallet and the talisman/amulet are both made of leather, but none show any evidence of charring. These are, of course, items that would very likely have been protected by the aircrew’s flight suits. But if charred, whole or nearly whole bodies had been buried, then how these “on-person” items came to be separated from the bodies requires explanation. Another critical piece of evidence concerning the nature of this crash is the relatively large section of anti-G garment that was recovered unburned with the zipper still closed.”
Is it possible that the dog tags, plastic laminated identification card, religious talisman/amulet, wallet or what is described as a “relatively large section of anti-G garment” would survive unscarred by the flames and heat of an air crash? Did these items lay on that mountainside, undisturbed for 27, waiting to be found or were they returned to the site to be found?
The bone identified as Charles J. Scharf will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on November 30th 2006. His sister, Barbara, does not accept the identification. His wife, Patricia does.
For us, all we see is another POW/MIA case closed, leaving behind more questions than answers.
View July 22, 1992 Document
View August 1, 1992 Document
The 19 New POW Cases Part I
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