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All Posts, Military History

Guest Post: Stephen Wynn

Mystery of Missing Flight F-BELV

The writing and completion of this book was a long time in the making, forty-three years to be exact.

My late mother first told me about the death of her half-brother, James Sylvester Byrne, in 1976, whilst he was serving as a Canadian soldier during the Vietnam war. I was 18 years of age at the time. I had found the story very compelling, even more so as I had seriously considered joining the Army at that time, so anything to do with the military, I found extremely interesting. The fact that in this case the person in question was related to me gave the story an extra edge.

I began researching my uncle’s death in the late 1990’s by sending a letter to the Canadian government. Many months later I received a letter from a Captain Solomon, who confirmed that my uncle had in fact served in the Canadian Army and had officially being recorded as killed in action in Indo-China on 18 October 1965.

I later received a copy of a report from Canada’s

Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. It was dated 11 January 1996, and was entitled;

A Report on Disappearance of the

International Commission for Supervision and Control

Aircraft over Indochina on

October 18, 1965.”

A copy of the report was also sent to the government of the United States embassy in Ottawa, Canada, who in turn passed it on to the Defence Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Office.

A meeting took place in Washington on 29 April 1966 between American and Canadian officials to review the information as it was at that time and to discuss the best way to progress the matter in light of America’s experience in dealing with such matters. Contact was also made via diplomatic channels with the government of Laos.

The report of 11 January 1996, was updated in January 2002. It included the information that since 1998, efforts had been made to locate the crash site of F-BELV, which

disappeared on 18 October 1965, whilst on a flight between Vientiane, Laos and Hanoi, Vietnam. The aircraft in question was carrying members of the International Commission for Supervision and Control, of which my uncle, James Sylvester Byrne was a part of.

The obvious question here is why did it take the Canadian authorities 31 years to produce the report of 11 January 1996.

After reports were received that an aircraft had crashed in Laos in the mid 1960’s, the Canadian Embassy in Thailand, approached the Laotian Embassy for assistance, along with the head of the resident United States Missing in Action team in Laos. Help was forthcoming from the Laotian government who agree to conduct a search of the identified area where wreckage of an aircraft was said to have been discovered, but they requested that Canada reimburse her for all costs incurred in the search, but no Canadian personnel were allowed to be part of the search team.

The Laotian authorities carried out their search between 15 and 30 December 1998, and although they found wreckage, it was not part of missing flight F-BELV.

The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs also sought assistance from the Government of Vietnam, in relation to any information they might have on the matter. It was first discussed in October 2000 in Hanoi, during a visit by the Canadian Director General of Consular Affairs, with the Vietnamese authorities.

The Government of the United States were also approached on the matter.

It would be fair to say that the Canadian government explored many different avenues in an attempt at discovering the truth of what happened, albeit more than 30 years after the events.

Flight F-BELV remains the only aircraft that was lost during the course of the Vietnam war that has never been recovered. I would suggest that simply cannot be the case. Somebody has found it, but for their own political reasons they have decided to stay tight lipped about what they know. Even now, some 55 years after the International Commission for Supervision and Control, Boeing S-307B Stratoliner was lost, it wouldn’t look good for the authorities of either Laos or North Vietnam to admit they had in essence shot down an aircraft that was carrying members of an international peace keeping mission, who were tasked with trying to assist in attempts at bringing the Vietnam War to an end.

As I see it there are only really two viable options as to what happened. Either Flight F-BELV crashed in to the side of the mountain, but with an experienced crew who had flown the route on numerous previous occasions, I doubt very much that was the case, the weather on the day was fine, and the aircraft had been well maintained mechanically. That only leaves the possibility that it was shot down, either by another air craft or by ground fire.

Besides the Vietnam War there was internal fighting going on within Laos between forces of the Royal Laotian Government, and guerrilla forces of the Pathet Lao. The latter of which controlled territory either immediately under, or near to, the approved air corridor which Flight F-BELV flew through. It is known that military aircraft of the British Royal Air Force, the United States Air Force, and from France in the form of Mission Militaire Francais, had air craft in the area at the time. There were also commercial aircraft who used the area, such as Air America who it is claimed were covertly owned and operated by America’s Central Intelligence Agency, from 1950 to 1976, and who supported covert operations throughout Southeast Asia during the course of the Vietnam War.

I have just two other points to highlight, which I will leave with you the reader to decide what if any value they have. In the early 2000’s I visited a local and very well respected clairvoyant who did not charge for her ‘readings.’ When I went to see her I gave her a different name, I told her my name was David and basically didn’t tell her anything about myself. We went off into a small adjoining room and sat down. After about ten seconds she asked, “does the name James mean anything to you?” I didn’t reply. She then went on to describe as a ‘pile up’ (multi-vehicle crash) on a motorway. “Did he die in a car crash?” She asked. “Why do you ask?” I enquired. “Because all I can see is wreckage everywhere, as if there had been a multi vehicle crash. There is debris all over the place.” I then explained about my uncle and how I believed he had met his death. “Oh, it all makes sense now. But I can tell you, it wasn’t his time, he wasn’t meant to die when he did.” Sadly she could not shed any light on how the aircraft had met its end. I realise for some people this might appear a bit far-fetched, but what I have just told you is a true story.

The other point I want to mention is a story that was told to me by the step-son of my uncle, Donald J Byrne who lives and works in Canada. He was visited by an unnamed American who claimed that James Sylvester Byrne had been involved in intelligence work, and was passing on any relevant information to American intelligence agencies. I have no doubt that meeting took place, although Donald would not elaborate further as to how or why that meeting came about or which American agency the individual who visited him, worked for.

So there you have it. No answers, just intrigue and uncertainty about what happened to missing flight F-BELV.

You can order a copy here.