Owl 08” – The Story of Capt. James Steadman, USAF • Capt. Robert Beutel, USAF, 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron “Nite Owls” – 8th Tactical Fighter Wing • Ubon RTAFB, Thailand, November 26, 1971

by Joseph Mortati
July 1, 2009

The purpose of this document is to provide the next-of-kin of Capt. James Steadman and Capt. Robert Beutel, USAF, MIA (Case 1781) a better understanding of what happened when their loved ones went missing on November 26, 1971. It is the result of over 500 hours of analysis of forensic and historical evidence uncovered by the Department of Defense’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC, formerly Joint Task Force-Full Accounting). It includes declassified documents, interviews with men who flew F-4s out of Ubon, Thailand in 1969-1971, as well as the author’s own flight experience in the F-4.

This document is neither a critique of, nor a commentary on, JPAC’s efforts. It simply attempts to translate a large volume of data into information understandable by someone without a military background. It is current as of the date below and all assumptions, analyses, recommendations, and conclusions are the author’s own and he could be wrong about any or all of them.

Writing this story would not been possible without the help of nearly a dozen people – the Steadman and Beutel Families, civilians, active and retired military, and Air Force Academy graduates – all of whom were gracious enough to give their time to help create this account.

The official Air Force record shows that Owl 08, an F-4D assigned to the 497th Tactical Fighter Squadron – “Nite Owls” – was lost on Friday, November 26, 1971 while on a singleship, night Forward Air Control mission over Laos. The fate of the crew and the location of the aircraft remain a mystery more than thirty-five years after the incident.  Of the basic questions of history – who, what, when, where, why, how? – only the “who” and “when” are known and this document is an attempt to answer the others. To do so, it takes the approach of working from the known to the unknown by presenting the facts of this case, analyzing them, and then attempting to explain what might have happened to Owl 08. Nothing can be certain until JPAC resolves the case but this document is the author’s best guess based on the available information to date.

© 2009 GTG Consulting. This work may be reproduced and redistributed, in whole or in part, without alteration and without prior written permission, provided the copyright holder is acknowledged as the source of the material.

The text above is the introduction to a very detailed 39 page analysis of the night forward air control “Fast FAC” mission flown by Owl 08.  The article has a lot of pictures and information about F-4s and flying them in combat in 1971 over Southeast Asia.