MIA Facts Site

Captain Earl Hopper, Jr.:
The Facts 

Summary.   On January 10, 1968, an F-4 piloted by USAF CAPT Keith Hall (aircraft commander), with LT Earl Hopper, Jr. as backseater
( bombardier / navigator ), was shot down over North Vietnam.  Hall told Hopper to eject.  Hopper replied over the intercom that he had tried to eject and his ejection system was not working.  Hall again told Hopper to eject.  Hopper told Hall to go ahead, that his system was not working.  Hall ejected, was captured, and returned at Operation Homecoming.  Hopper was not able to eject and rode the aircraft into the ground.

Hopper's father, Retired US Army Colonel Earl Hopper, for years has spread an almost completely false story about his son's loss.  This article contains:

bulletThe phony story that is passed around the MIA "activist" cult about the Hopper loss.
bulletThe phony story repeated with facts inserted.
bulletThe results of the excavation of Hopper's crash site.

UPDATE: 
5 May 2002. 
LT Earl Hopper's remains were identified and the identification was
approved by the Secretary of the Air Force on 16 January 2002.

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How to read this article

At the risk of confusing everyone, I have reproduced the phony story below, then, I have repeated the phony story with facts inserted.  Here goes.

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This is the phony story, unedited, exactly as it appears on a prominent MIA misinformation website.

Name: Earl Pearson Hopper, Jr
Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force
Unit: 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron,
Udorn AB TH
Date of Birth: 21 July 1943
Home City of Record: Glendale AZ
Date of Loss: 10 January 1968
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 202559N
1044659E (VH774777)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action

Category: 2
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D

Other Personnel In Incident: Keith N. Hall (released POW)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 October 1990 from information provided by Col. Earl P. Hopper, Sr. (USA, ret.) and Patty Skelly of Task Force Omega, Inc.
Other information from one more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, published sources, interviews.

REMARKS: EJECTION PROBS/DWN/CRASH

SYNOPSIS: Capt. Keith N. Hall and 1Lt. Earl P. Hopper, Jr. were pilots assigned to the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Udorn Airbase, Thailand. On January 10, 1968 the two flew their first mission together on an "aircap" mission over Hanoi. Hall was the pilot, and Hopper flew as Bombardier/Navigator on the flight. During the mission, the aircraft was damaged by a SAM missile exploding 100 feet below and to the right of the aircraft, knocking out the hydraulic system. Neither Hall nor Hopper was injured by the blast.

After some initial ejection problems, Capt. Hall, was able to bail out.  [Note: Normal ejection sequence calls for the backseater to bail out first, followed a few seconds later by the pilot.] Other pilots in the flight marked Hall's position, then continued with Hopper as he headed for Laos.

Hopper was about 15 miles north of Muong Min in Hoa Binh Province and nearly to the border of Laos when he ejected.   Hall had ejected about 20 miles to the east.

The accompanying pilots observed the canopy of the aircraft and Hopper's ejection seat leave the aircraft as the aircraft was about to enter a 5,000 foot overcast. The pilots also picked up two emergency radio signals, one very strong and the other rather weak, indicating that both men reached the ground. 

Hall was captured about 40 minutes after he bailed out. Hopper's radio signal was tracked for three consecutive days in the rugged, mountainous area where the aircraft went down. On the second or third day, a pilot monitoring the beeper gave Hopper's recognition code and said, "Lt. Hopper, if that's you, give me 15-second intervals (in his radio signal)." The pilot received six 15-second intervals in a positive response. This information was released to the family in a February 8, 1968 communique. On about the third day, a ground search team was inserted into the area, and recovered Hopper's radio, but no trace of Hopper was found.

Hall was captured by the North Vietnamese and released in 1973.

Hall was closely interrogated regarding personal information about Hopper, but knew little.  The Vietnamese guard was noncommittal when Hall asked if Hopper was also a prisoner. 

On July 14, 1982, "due to the length of time missing and with no information to prove he is alive,"  Hopper's official status, Missing In Action, was changed to Presumed Killed In Action. Only two months later, a three-man judiciary committee from the U.S. Justice Department, Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, found officially that Hopper should have been classified Prisoner of War, not Missing In Action.

During the first few months of 1984, the Hopper family learned that CIA had always listed Hopper as a POW. Further, CIA files revealed that the agency had tracked Hopper as he headed for a "safe" area in Laos, that there were heavy concentrations of NVA and Pathet Lao troops in the area searching for the downed pilot, and that the CIA sent a free Lao team to extract him. When Hopper knew he was in imminent danger of being captured, he locked the transmission key on his radio in the "on" position, extended the antenna, and hid it, thus marking his location of capture for the search team.

From 1981 to 1984, Major Mark A. Smith (a returned POW from Vietnam) and SFC Melvin McIntyre, both attached to Special Forces Detachment, Korea (SFDK) were pursuing DIA instructions to gather intelligence on American POWs who remained in captivity in Southeast Asia.  Smith and McIntyre, who did not believe Americans were held, obtained specific information which convinced them that Americans were still alive at that time, held captive. Among other evidence presented to the U.S. was a list of some 26 Americans by name and captivity location. Earl Hopper's name was on the list.

In 1984, Maj. Smith received word that on 11 May three U.S. POWs would be brought to a given location on the Lao/Thai border. The only prerequisite was that the POWs be received by an American. Smith's request to stand on the border and wait for delivery was refused, and he and his team were commanded to remain in Korea. If the three Americans were brought to the border, no one was there to receive them. Smith and McIntyre believed Hopper to be one of the three men.

The information obtained by Smith and McIntyre was provided under oath to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on January 28, 1986, and included in a lawsuit the two initiated against the U.S. Government for its failure to protect the rights of live American POWs in Southeast Asia.

Parents Earl and Betty Hopper  have diligently sought information on their son and others who disappeared in Southeast Asia.  They believe there is actionable evidence that some are still alive in captivity. Until that evidence is acted upon, and proof is obtained to the contrary, they will not give up hope that their son is alive.

1Lt. Earl Hopper graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1965 and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during the period he was maintained missing.

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  Now, for the facts.  The following is the phony story with facts inserted.  This is what you are about to read:

bulletThe phony story is in black type, Arial typeface(This phony story was downloaded from a prominent MIA information page on the worldwide web.)
bulletThe facts are inserted into the phony story in bold typeface, green type.

Name: Earl Pearson Hopper, Jr
Rank/Branch: O2/US Air Force
Unit: 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron,
Udorn AB TH
Date of Birth: 21 July 1943
Home City of Record: Glendale AZ
Date of Loss: 10 January 1968
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 202559N
1044659E (VH774777)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
(FACT:  Status is Presumptive Finding of Death)
Category: 2 (FACT:  In preparation for Operation Homecoming, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the military services attempted to determine just who would be coming home and what were the chances that the Vietnamese would know about men who did not come home.  For example, the Vietnamese could not be expected to have any information about a man lost fifty miles at sea.  On the other hand, if a man were lost when his aircraft was shot down into an area where there was a heavy concentration of North Vietnamese forces, it is quite likely that they would know something about him.  Men were categorized into Categories 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.  Category 1 was "confirmed enemy knowledge."    Category 2 is "suspect enemy knowledge."  Category 3, "doubtful enemy knowledge;" Category 4, "unknown knowledge;" Category 5, "remains unrecoverable."   Click here to read the facts about the categoriesThese categories are regularly misrepresented by the MIA activists.  They proclaim that Category 1 means "confirmed POW,' Category 2 is "probable POW," etc.  Not so.)
Acft/Vehicle/Ground: F4D

Other Personnel In Incident: Keith N. Hall (released POW)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 October 1990 from information provided by Col. Earl P. Hopper, Sr. (USA, ret.) and Patty Skelly of Task Force Omega, Inc.
Other information from one more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, published sources, interviews.

REMARKS: EJECTION PROBS/DWN/CRASH

SYNOPSIS: Capt. Keith N. Hall and 1Lt. Earl P. Hopper, Jr. were pilots assigned to the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron based at Udorn Airbase, Thailand. On January 10, 1968 the two flew their first mission together on an "aircap" mission over Hanoi. Hall was the pilot, and Hopper flew as Bombardier/Navigator on the flight. During the mission, the aircraft was damaged by a SAM missile exploding 100 feet below and to the right of the aircraft, knocking out the hydraulic system. Neither Hall nor Hopper was injured by the blast. (FACT:  We don't know if Hopper was injured in the blast or not.)

After some initial ejection problems, Capt. Hall, was able to bail out. (FACT:  The primary ejection method in the F-4 is a small handle at the base of the seat, centered between the crewman's legs. That is the desired method to eject because it places the hands and arms securely together in the middle of the body and allows one to lean back and place the head against the back of the seat.  The secondary ejection method involves reaching up and grabbing a ring which is near and slightly behind the ear area. That ring is hard to reach in the
back seat, and harder if the person is tall. Th
e following information was reported by CAPT Hall after he was repatriated at Operation Homecoming, 1973.  Hall told Hopper to eject but got no reply.  Hall again told Hopper to eject, saying: "Earl, get out."  Hopper replied:  "I've pulled it and it won't go."  This meant that he had pulled the ejection handle and he did not eject. Hall again told Hopper to eject and Hopper replied "You go."  At that point, Hall pulled his primary ejection handle -- it failed -- he pulled the secondary ring and was ejected.)
  [Note: Normal ejection sequence calls for the backseater to bail out first, followed a few seconds later by the pilot.] (FACT:  The F-4 has two possible ejection sequences:  LOCKED and UNLOCKED.  When the system is UNLOCKED, each individual pulls his own ejection handle.  When it is LOCKED, when one guy pulls his handle, an ejection sequence is started that ejects first the backseater then the front seater.)  Other pilots in the flight marked Hall's position, then continued with Hopper as he headed for Laos. (Fact:   This is completely false.  The other flight members observed the aircraft break into three pieces as soon as Hall ejected.)

Hopper was about 15 miles north of Muong Min in Hoa Binh Province and nearly to the border of Laos when he ejected. (Fact:   Hopper never ejected.  Read on.) Hall had ejected about 20 miles to the east.

The accompanying pilots observed the canopy of the aircraft and Hopper's ejection seat leave the aircraft as the aircraft was about to enter a 5,000 foot overcast.(FACT:  Hopper was not able to eject from the aircraft.  Other members of the flight had the aircraft in sight and saw it break into three large pieces.  They reported different observations regarding the ejection:  the flight leader believed he saw a dark shape leave the aircraft followed by a similar object but he saw no parachute; a second flight member said he saw two objects leave at the same time but did not see a parachute; a third flight member saw neither canopy nor seat leave the aircraft; a fourth saw two spots behind the aircraft, and, a fifth saw two canopies but only one seat leave the aircraft.)  The pilots also picked up two emergency radio signals, one very strong and the other rather weak, indicating that both men reached the ground.  (FACT:  Other aircraft in the flight picked up one strong beeper signal -- Hall's.  Hall established voice contact with the flight leader and the search and rescue aircraft in the area.  The flight leader and SAR aircraft made 10 to 12 calls for Hopper, none of which were answered.  Another aircraft, several miles away, reported hearing a weak, intermittent beeper.  Because of the distance involved, and the terrain over which the beeper's UHF signal had to pass, it is probable that what the distant aircraft heard was Hall's beeper.)

Hall was captured about 40 minutes after he bailed out. Hopper's radio signal was tracked for three consecutive days in the rugged, mountainous area where the aircraft went down. On the second or third day, a pilot monitoring the beeper gave Hopper's recognition code and said, "Lt. Hopper, if that's you, give me 15-second intervals (in his radio signal)." The pilot received six 15-second intervals in a positive response. This information was released to the family in a February 8, 1968 communique. On about the third day, a ground search team was inserted into the area, and recovered Hopper's radio, but no trace of Hopper was found. (FACT:  This part of the story is completely false. There was no tracking of Hopper's radio signal anywhere because there was no radio signal to track.  Hall landed on the ground and immediately established radio contact with his flight leader and search and rescue aircraft.  Flight leader and SAR tried to raise Hopper on the radio and never received a reply. )

Hall was captured by the North Vietnamese and released in 1973.

Hall was closely interrogated regarding personal information about Hopper, but knew little.  The Vietnamese guard was noncommittal when Hall asked if Hopper was also a prisoner.  (FACT:  Hall was questioned only briefly about Hopper.  It was not unusual for the Vietnamese to ask a captured man the identity of other members of his crew.  Hall reported that he asked his Vietnamese interrogator about Hopper and the interrogator replied that he did not know anything about Hopper.)

On July 14, 1982, "due to the length of time missing and with no information to prove he is alive,"  Hopper's official status, Missing In Action, was changed to Presumed Killed In Action. Only two months later, a three-man judiciary committee from the U.S. Justice Department, Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, found officially that Hopper should have been classified Prisoner of War, not Missing In Action. (FACT:  There is an old US law that states that if a US citizen is detained illegally by a foreign power, that citizen is due a monetary award from the US government for the time that he was detained.  Earl Hopper, Sr., sued the US government under this law.  The court, ruling that they had no real way of determining Hopper's fate, awarded Earl Hopper a sum of money covering the period of time from the date of his son's loss to the date that the last POW returned at Homecoming.  Hopper, Sr., has regularly misrepresented this ruling as somehow proving that the US government knew his son was alive.)

During the first few months of 1984, the Hopper family learned that CIA had always listed Hopper as a POW. Further, CIA files revealed that the agency had tracked Hopper as he headed for a "safe" area in Laos, that there were heavy concentrations of NVA and Pathet Lao troops in the area searching for the downed pilot, and that the CIA sent a free Lao team to extract him. When Hopper knew he was in imminent danger of being captured, he locked the transmission key on his radio in the "on" position, extended the antenna, and hid it, thus marking his location of capture for the search team. (FACT:  This portion of the story is absolutely false.  The CIA had no responsibility for listing US personnel in any status.  No one "tracked" LT Hopper anywhere.  There was no survival radio locked in the transmit position.)

From 1981 to 1984, Major Mark A. Smith (a returned POW from Vietnam) and SFC Melvin McIntyre, both attached to Special Forces Detachment, Korea (SFDK) were pursuing DIA instructions to gather intelligence on American POWs who remained in captivity in Southeast Asia. (FACT:  Smith and McIntyre were not operating under DIA authority or any other authority for that matter.  As members of the Special Forces Detachment in Korea, they traveled to Thailand from time to time on training missions.  While there, Smith picked up some of the stories told by scam artists and frauds that circulated around the refugee camps.  Click here to read Wick Tourison's excellent article on fraudulent and misleading reporting. It was this sort of reporting that Smith picked up in Thailand.  He reported these stories to Army intelligence.  None of his information was of any value.  Everything that Smith had was old, phony stories that DIA had heard time and again.)  Smith and McIntyre, who did not believe Americans were held, obtained specific information which convinced them that Americans were still alive at that time, held captive. (FACT:  After avoiding contact with DIA for several years,  McIntyre was interviewed by DIA.  During that interview, McIntyre stated that the information they had was "nothing substantive.") Among other evidence presented to the U.S. was a list of some 26 Americans by name and captivity location. Earl Hopper's name was on the list. (FACT:  Smith has regularly produced lists of names of missing men, claiming that he has information about these men.  Major Mark Smith, US Army (Retired) has never produced a single piece of useful information about any missing American.  Here is an article about Smith.)

In 1984, Maj. Smith received word that on 11 May three U.S. POWs would be brought to a given location on the Lao/Thai border. The only prerequisite was that the POWs be received by an American. Smith's request to stand on the border and wait for delivery was refused, and he and his team were commanded to remain in Korea. If the three Americans were brought to the border, no one was there to receive them. Smith and McIntyre believed Hopper to be one of the three men. (FACT:  This is another of Mark Smith's fantasy stories.)

The information obtained by Smith and McIntyre was provided under oath to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on January 28, 1986, and included in a lawsuit the two initiated against the U.S. Government for its failure to protect the rights of live American POWs in Southeast Asia. (FACT:  The Chairman of the Committee, Senator Frank Murkowski, and other members of the committee, reviewed the "evidence" presented by Smith and McIntyre and pronounced it "pretty lightweight stuff."  Among the "evidence" were three photographs that Smith claimed showed American POWs still being held in SEAsia.  The photos showed two men, dressed in jeans and casual shirts, wearing sunglasses, standing on the bank of a river, holding rifles and pistols.  If these men were POWs, their captors had done a rather poor job of disarming them.)

Parents Earl and Betty Hopper  have diligently sought information on their son and others who disappeared in Southeast Asia.  They believe there is actionable evidence that some are still alive in captivity. Until that evidence is acted upon, and proof is obtained to the contrary, they will not give up hope that their son is alive.

1Lt. Earl Hopper graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1965 and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during the period he was maintained missing.  (FACT:  Promotion while in a missing status is normal.  An individual is promoted, while missing, along with his contemporaries.  Upon the issuance of a presumptive finding of death, the individual is promoted one more grade (except that no one will be promoted beyond 0-6, to general officer).  This is done to ensure that the missing man's family receives the largest possible death settlement -- such settlements are based on salary.)

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So, there you have the story.   It is the same story that is told by LT Hopper's father from  stages and podiums wherever he can get an audience.  The bold green type contains the facts of the case.  LT Earl Hopper died in his crash.  He rode the aircraft in, unable to eject.  There was no second beeper, no tracking of his radio, no clicks on the survival radio, no CIA tracking of Hopper, no radio locked in the transmit position, and there were not three men to be released.  

Earl Hopper, Sr.

Note that the phony article carried on MIA "activist" sites talks about  "Parents Earl and Betty Hopper." There is more to it than that.   For many years, Earl Hopper, Sr. openly carried on an affair with a woman named Patty Skelly.  Hopper and Skelly are the sole members of an organization they call Task Force Omega -- TFO consists of Skelly, Hopper, and an Internet connection, though they would have you believe that they are legion.  Hopper and Skelly met in the mid-1980s and soon were an item among MIA families -- basically, old Earl was using MIA family activities as an excuse to bonk Patty -- all the while his wife, Earl, Jr.'s mother, Betty -- was fully aware of this but was powerless to do anything about it.   While I was assigned to the DIA POW-MIA Office, I spoke at many family member meetings, some of them attended by Hopper, Skelly, and Betty Hopper.  After-hours at these meetings, some of the family members would talk to me informally and  many of them were upset with the way Hopper and Skelly were making no attempt to hide their affair and with the way Hopper was treating Betty.  Betty Hopper developed Alzheimer's and died in 1998 or 1999 -- I forget which -- and Hopper and Skelly are now married.

Hopper claims to have extensive experience in Army intelligence.  This is typical of his lies and misrepresentations.  In his last job in the Army, Hopper was assigned as Director of Intelligence and Security at a small Army base -- this is a typical retirement assignment because it requires no real activity, leaving the incumbent free to concentrate on retiring.  Such positions have no real intelligence duties -- but Hopper would have you believe that he was a colleague of Agent 007.  In his dreams.   One DIA admiral, a man with long experience in the intelligence field, and a man who had considerable dealings with Hopper, gave me this assessment of Earl Hopper, Sr:   "He couldn't pour piss out of a boot with the instructions written on the sole."

Now I understand from a couple of folks who have received e-mail from her that Patty Skelly -- who did not meet Earl, Sr. until fifteen years AFTER Earl, Jr. was lost -- is sending e-mail signing herself as Earl, Jr.'s  "stepmother."    And I'm the King of England.

Closer examination

Here are additional comments on this fairy tale about the Hall-Hopper loss.

The Two-Man Crew

Hall and Hopper were the two crewmembers of an F-4.  In the F-4, one guy sits in the front seat, the other is behind and slightly above in the back seat.  There is a REAL difference in who these people are and what they do.

The guy in the front seat is the PILOT and the AIRCRAFT COMMANDER.   He is a "rated" pilot -- that means his job, his training, and his sole duty is flying the aircraft.  As the Aircraft Commander, he tells the other guy what to do and when to do it.  And, at supersonic speeds, there is no debate.  Air crews are drilled in doing what the aircraft commander says, when he says it.

The guy in the back is NOT NECESSARILY A RATED PILOT.  Note that the inaccurate version of this incident tries to confuse this matter.  In the opening paragraph, the bogus version of the incident says that Hall and Hopper were "both pilots assigned to the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron."  Later, Hopper is identified as the "bombardier/navigator."  This is an important difference; to understand this difference, we need to review how the Air Force came to fly the F4.

The F4 was originally a Navy fighter.  Navy airwar practice involves two-seater fighter aircraft:  a pilot in the front and a weapons officer -- not a pilot -- in the back seat. The Air Force traditionally used single-seat fighter aircraft.  In the Navy airwar model, the weapons officer operates the systems that acquire and fire on targets; he also had other duties to assist the pilot and, as the AF brought the F-4 into inventory, AF F-4 back-seaters picked up these duties:

bulletTotal control of the aircraft radar system;
bulletMaintaining radio contact with other flight members;
bulletNavigating and keeping track of where they were;
bullet"Checking six" -- that is, watching the six o'clock position behind the aircraft and the sky above the aircraft (the pilot was focussed on what's ahead) to ensure that enemy aircraft did not come up from behind or above undetected;
bulletKeeping the log book up to date.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara decided that the Air Force should adopt the F4 as an economy and efficiency move, reasoning that a single fighter could be used by both services.  As a result, the Air Force had to hurriedly adopt the Navy model and train Weapons Systems Officers (WSO's, called "wizzos").  Candidate WSO's were taken after graduation from USAF navigator training and given graduate training in operating the weapons systems in the back seat of the F4.  Their principal duties involved acquiring air-to-air targets by radar and aiding in the launch of missiles to shoot down other aircraft.  They had little role in air-to-ground missions such as the one that Hall and Hopper were on when they were shot down.

In the early years of the war -- 1964 - 1966 -- there was a shortage of people to train as WSO's, thus, some rated pilots wound up flying in the back seat of the F4.  The Air Force did not want to continue this practice because the time and expense to train a pilot was wasted if the guy flew in the back seat, not to mention the fact that two pilots were lost if the aircraft was shot down.  By the time Hopper arrived in 1968, there were sufficient WSO candidates so that rated pilots were not flying in the back seat.  

Ejection issues

The fact that Hall got out of the aircraft and Hooper did not is not unusual.  I do not know how many two-seater aircraft were shot down and only one crewmember got out, but, I know personally of four such incidents.

  1. The Hall-Hopper loss.
  2. I met an individual while at a MIA family meeting in Atlanta.  He was a former F4 pilot, now flying for Delta Airlines.  He had been shot down over South Vietnam, his back-seater was not able to eject -- they had a conversation similar to that of Hall and Hopper -- and he ejected and was rescued.  His back-seater rode it in.
  3. In another F4 loss, one man ejected, was captured, and returned at Homecoming.  His front-seater did not eject and rode it in.  The front-seater's brother was a USAF general officer who stopped by the DIA office from time to time to see if there was new information on his brother.  The site was excavated in the late 1990's and remains were recovered.
  4. I spoke to a class at the National Defense University in 1988 and was followed by another speaker.  He was the back-seater in an F4 that was shot down by a MiG-21 over North Vietnam.  The pilot was hit in the shootdown and only the back-seater got out.   He evaded capture for three weeks and was rescued.  The Vietnamese recovered the pilot's remains and returned them after the end of the war.

Thus, it is not unusual that one guy could eject and the other could not.

The latest version of this incident

Earl Hopper, Sr. can't make up his mind which story he wants to tell about his son's loss.  The story quoted above was snipped from one of the major MIA websites.   However, you find a different story if you visit the "Task Force Omega" site, maintained by Earl Hopper, Sr., at this URL    http://www.taskforceomegainc.org/H064.htm   .  Here are some of the incorrect statements on the TFO site.

bullet"On 10 January 1968, Capt. Keith N. Hall, aircraft commander, and 1st Lt. Earl P. Hopper, Jr., pilot, comprised the crew of a F4D, ..."
bulletNot exactly ... on official documents, Hopper's Duty Position is listed as "Navigator."  See the discussions above regarding duties of the two-man crew of the F-4.  In the earlier days when the F-4 came into the AF inventory, the AF was not certain of what to call the back-seater.  At first they called them "navigator;" the term "Weapons System Officer" rapidly evolved and became the standard term.
bullet"The other pilots in the flight marked Keith Hall's position, then continued with Earl Hopper while he headed for Laos in an attempt to overfly that country to return to Udorn; or at a minimum, to reach more friendly territory." 
bulletThis statement is also a crock.  Friendly territory was not Laos to the west ... friendly territory was the Gulf of Tonkin to the east, only a few seconds flight time away.  Aircrews tried to get "feet wet"  -- over the Gulf of Tonkin where they could eject, float in the water, and be rescued -- many were.
bullet"From 1981 to 1984, the Special Forces Detachment, Korea was charged by President Reagan with the responsibility of collecting live POW information throughout Southeast Asia. "SFDK" was commanded by Major Mark Smith, himself a returned POW from the Vietnam War. Through his efforts, and those of team Intelligence Sergeant Mel McIntire, an agent net of 50 agents was established, specifically in Laos. This intelligence net resulted in Major Smith compiling a list of some 26 American POWs by name and captivity location with Earl Hopper being one of them. In April 1984, Major Smith received a message from one of his agents specifying that on 11 May three US Prisoners of War would be brought to a given location on the Lao/Thai border. The only prerequisite was that an American be on the Thailand side of the border  to receive the men.
bulletWhen this information was reported up his chain of command, Major Smith's team was ordered not to leave Korea, to destroy all documents pertaining to LIVE POWs and they were sent back to the United States 6 months early. According to Major Smith and SFC McIntire, they believe Earl P. Hopper, Jr. was one of those three Prisoners who could have been returned on 11 May 1984. This documented information was provided to the United States Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in sworn testimony on 28 January 1986."
bulletThe preceding paragraphs are false in the extreme.   Read the facts about Mark Smith in this article . This article  relates the facts about what Smith never turned over to the Veterans Affairs Committee because he had nothing to turn over.

5,000 feet

Now, let's do a little math and consider the physics of flight.  This incident took place around 5,000 feet altitude.  A fighter plane at 5,000 feet with flames coming out the back is serious trouble. It is likely to explode in the air. If the flight leader or anyone else in the flight sees it and says, "Get out," you get out IMMEDIATELY, which is exactly what Hall did.  Remember, Hall tried his primary ejection system and it did not work so he pulled his backup.  Hopper reported to Hall that he had "pulled it and it did not work."  Hopper's ejection systems were not working.

At a conservative ground speed estimate of 250mph (they were likely flying much faster), the plane travels 4.16 miles in one minute -- and at 5,000 feet they were less than one mile above ground. Thus, at 5,000 feet, and the plane in trouble, the crew has about 10 seconds to execute a successful ejection. The plane most likely hit the ground in less than 15 seconds after Hall ejected.

What's Missing?

If you go to the Task Force Omega site or to any other site that posts the phony story about Hopper's loss, you will notice that one important bit of information is missing.   What's missing?  The results of the excavations of Earl Hopper, Jr.'s crash site are nowhere to be found.  That's right, the crash site was located and searched eight times between November 1993 and November 1998.  Why does Hopper, Sr. not want anyone to know the results of the excavations of the crash site?  Read on for the answer.

Update:  November 2000

The Hopper crashsite was surveyed and excavated several times.  As a result, human bone fragments and teeth were recovered along with a substantial quantity of crew-related items, proving that Earl Hopper, Jr. was in the aircraft when it crashed.  I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents that reported the results of the excavation(s) of the Hopper crash site and received those documents in December 1999.  I did not post any of those documents on the Internet for some time but now it's time that the rest of the world reads the facts.

Crash site is investigated and excavated

The Hopper crash site was surveyed and excavated several times.  The first action is to find the site and survey it -- make certain that this really is a US aircraft crash site, determine what will be needed in the way of equipment and people to excavate the site, and, if possible, recover pieces of wreckage that will identify the crash site.   Here is a chart showing the surveys and excavations of the Hopper crash site.

Date Activity Results
11 November 1993 Surveyed suspected crash site, interviewed witnesses Concluded that crash site generally correlates to Hopper's loss
4-5 March 1994 Surveyed site, interviewed witnesses Recommended site be placed in "pending excavation" category
19 October 1995 Conducted surface search of crash site Found pieces of wreckage containing serial numbers that correlated to Hopper's aircraft
6 - 23 January 1997 Excavation Found four possible bone fragments and numerous pieces of life support equipment      ( Follow-on analysis showed the possible bone fragments were not bone (3 fragments) or were not human (1 fragment) )
12 March - 12 April 1997 Excavation Found human teeth and bone fragments, personal effects, and material evidence
9 - 30 November 1997 Excavation Found human teeth and bone fragments
24 February - 14 March 1998 Excavation Found human bone fragments
9 - 22 November 1998 Excavation (final) Found personal effects and material evidence

 

The Findings

Note that the chart above indicates that human remains, life support equipment, and material evidence were recovered.  Let's examine what that means.   Crew-related equipment found in crash sites are critical to determining the fate of the crew.   Here is the process:

bulletThe crash site is excavated using standard archaeological excavation techniques.  If you have ever seen photographs or video of an archaeological excavation, you have seen the techniques used in excavating crash sites.
bulletCrash sites from the Vietnam war are now thirty or more years old -- the last US aircraft was lost in February 1973.  Human bodies are mangled by the forces of a crash, especially in the case of high-performance aircraft where crash speeds are in excess of 300 miles per hour.  Shredded, mangled remains are in the crashsite where fragmentary human remains lie exposed to weather and acid soil for three decades.
bulletExcavations usually recover only small bone fragments and a few teeth.  Excavations also recover -- usually -- fairly large quantities of "crew-related" equipment -- pieces of the survival kit attached to an ejection seat; personal items that the crewmember(s) would have had in  pockets; pieces of parachute and/or ejection seats.   The presence of these items indicate that one or more crewmembers were in the aircraft at the time of impact.

In the case of the Hall-Hopper crash site, this is known:

bulletThere were two men in the aircraft, Hall and Hopper.
bulletHall ejected, was captured, and released at Operation Homecoming.
bulletHopper was never seen to eject from the aircraft.  He made no emergency calls, his beeper was not heard after the crash nor was any contact established with him on emergency radio frequencies.
bulletThe excavation recovered substantial quantities of equipment associated with one crewmember -- pieces of ejection seat, the survival radio, many parts from the survival kit, and the like.  The message reproduced below lists the pieces of crew-related equipment recovered from the Hall-Hopper crash site. 

The following is a list of items recovered during the excavations of Hopper's crashsite.  I have consolidated this list from several messages that I received as a result of my FOIA request.  Following the last excavation, the Joint Task Force -- Full Accounting (the people who do the excavations) issued a message that consolidated all items found in the crashsite.  I have reproduced that list in the chart below and I have scanned the message and posted it here (it's in four parts; contains jpeg files and each part takes a minute to load).  (I have inserted notes at a few places in this list -- my notes are in (parentheses) in this typeface.)

One shoulder harness snubber release mechanism bearing One oxygen mask buckle with harness numerous webbing pieces Several survival vest material pieces
One snap hook One possible radio beacon circuit board (This would be the circuit board from Hopper's beeper.) One torso harness survival kit fitting Four survival kit hold down hardware pieces
One harness yoke fitting One possible survival kit cable One life raft oral inflation tube One survival kit attachment buckle
Three metal boot insole pieces One safety pin Various possible flight suit material portions One RT-10 survival radio antenna section
One RT-10 survival radio battery One RT-10 survival radio data plate Three possible survival kit material pieces Two document protector pieces
Numerous parachute canopy material pieces One possible pilot parachute material piece several .38 caliber ammunition fragments (Hopper was carrying a standard issue .38 cal. pistol) four Velcro hook pieces
various snaps miscellaneous zippers two parachute container comes with grommet three bayonet fitting pieces
two torso harness V-rings three metal web belt hardware pieces numerous grommets one oxygen mask valve
one survival kit buckle one lensatic compass eye piece (compass would have been in the survival kit) one life raft boarding handle several life preserver material and harness pieces
one Koch fitting one possible container material piece one strobe light battery cap one torso harness adjustment buckle
one oxygen cylinder gauge one button compass piece one parachute riser link one pen gun launcher section
One ejection seat piece part number MBEU 5241-8 
(MBEUMartin-Baker Ejection Unit, the standard F4 ejection seat.  This means that the ejection seat was in the aircraft when it crashed.)
one ejection seat piece part number MBEU 657-H5 one ejection seat piece part number MBEU 57427 one ejection seat piece with part number MBEU 736H5-RB3262
several MK-13 signal flare pieces one .38 caliber cartridge various pieces of webbing pieces of unidentified rubber
several snap fasteners numerous pieces of unidentified metal one pen gun bandoleer section two flight manual cover pieces
one oxygen mask adjustment buckle one survival kit attachment buckle two ammunition casings one life raft repair plug
various zipper teeth numerous pieces of survival kit lid one boot eyelet several pieces of unidentified material
miscellaneous clot, webbing pen gun flare fragment several checklist fragments several survival vest fragments
one parachute strap fragment one equipment snap one .38 caliber round one possible G-suit fragment (Hopper would have been wearing a G-suit.)
one pen gun flare launcher one zipper fragment one MK-13 signal flare cap one boot eyelet
one boot vent screen numerous aircraft parts, including data plates and serial numbers six buckles one possible seat drogue chute connector link and webbing

The items listed above were examined by USAF life support specialists -- the people who design the ejection seats, survival gear, G-suits, anything having to do with enabling the crew to survive.   This is what the life support specialists who examined the material from Hopper's aircraft said: 

bullet"Artifacts representing virtually every item of life support/survival equipment were recovered. . ."
bullet"The aircrew related items recovered within the crash site confirm a crew member was in the aircraft at impact.  There was no indication that duplication existed among the artifacts to suggest there was a second crew member in the aircraft."

Comments

bulletThe reports of others in the flight as eyewitnesses to the ejection were typically inconclusive. I have read a lot of pilot de-briefs; they see things differently.   Given the cloudy conditions and the fact that they were dodging surface-to-air missiles, it was no doubt hard to tell what happened. However, the first thing an aircrew does after a successful ejection is to get on the radio.  Hall did exactly that.  The fact that Hopper never came up on the radio is pretty conclusive evidence that he never left the plane.  Note, too that major parts of his survival radio -- which would have been in a pocket in his survival vest -- were found in the excavation.
bulletThe survival kit materials (including a .38, radio, flaregun, maps, compass, etc.) are stored in a vest that aircrew in fighters wear in front of the body, chest to waist.   People who have worn these things tell me they are cumbersome and a pain in the ass. But, they are essential for escape and evasion, and anyone who successfully ejected would have it on their person.   The fact that these items, carried in the survival vest, were found in the wreckage makes it plain that LT Hopper did not get out of the aircraft.
bulletAlso significant is the fact that some rubber raft material was found in the wreckage. When one ejects, this raft trails (hangs) below the guy who ejected while he is in his chute. It hits the ground, or water, first. Had Hopper successfully ejected, the raft would have left the aircraft with him -- the fact that this material was found in the wreckage makes it more clear that Hopper did not eject..
bulletBottom line: Earl Hopper, Jr., did not get out of his aircraft.
bulletWhy is this information not posted on the Task Force Omega page about Earl Hopper, Jr.?  Why is this information not on any of the other MIA sites about Hopper?  Simple:   Earl Hopper, Sr. does not want anyone to know the truth about the excavation. He knows that anyone who reads the results of the excavations will conclude that Earl, Jr. died in the crash.  If people conclude that, what, then, are they to believe about Earl, Sr. who continues to spread the bullshit story about his son?  Earl, Sr.'s credibility is riding on this -- he cannot afford to have anyone discover the truth because, when they do, they will understand that he cannot be trusted to tell the whole story.

I do not know the status of attempts to identify the remains and teeth found in the crash site but that is irrelevant -- Hopper was the only man in the aircraft, he did not get out, any bone fragments or teeth in the crashsite are Hopper.

Go to this article to read the message with the consolidated findings.

Update:  5 May 2002

LT Earl Hopper's remains -- recovered in the excavations described above -- were identified and the identification was approved on 16 January 2002.  He is not missing and was never a prisoner.  LT Hopper was not able to get out of his stricken aircraft and was killed when it crashed.

The Defense POW-Missing Personnel Office publishes regular updated lists of men who are accounted for as their remains are identified and as the identifications are approved by the respective service Secretaries.  (See this article about the identification process.)  You can view the latest updated "accounted-for" list here: http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/pmsea/pmsea_acc_p_name.pdf     The link will open an Adobe file listing all individuals who have been accounted for.  Search for the name "Hopper" and see for yourself.