Posted on Facebook by Danny Fowler
Most of you I’m sure don’t remember what happened on this day 49 years ago, but as a former member of VQ-1 I certainly do. It happened before my watch, but it was a tragedy nonetheless and should never be forgotten.
If you never saw our aircraft, our informal call sign was Peter Rabbit, and we had either the Black Bat and Lightning Bolt (because of our association with the Black Bat Squadron) on the tail or the infamous Playboy Bunny.
So today as you go about your busy lives, please take a moment and think of these brave 31 souls who gave their all for our freedom. The politicians won’t, they didn’t then during the Pueblo incident and they won’t now.
The full story is below…
At 07:00 local time of Tuesday, 15 April 1969, an EC-121M of the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1) took off from NAS Atsugi, Japan, on an intelligence-gathering reconnaissance mission. The aircraft, Bureau number 135749 bore the tail code “PR-21” and used the radio call sign Deep Sea 129. Aboard were 8 officers and 23 enlisted men under the command of LCDR James Overstreet. Nine of the crew, including one marine NCO, were Naval Security Group cryptologic technicians (CTs) and linguists in Russian and Korean.
These missions, while nominally under the command of Seventh Fleet and CINCPAC, were controlled operationally by the Naval Security Group detachment at NSF Kamiseya, Japan, under the direction of the National Security Agency.
Very soon after arrival over the Sea of Japan (East Sea of Korea), at 10:35, North Korea reacted to the presence of the EC-121, but not in a way that would jeopardize the mission. At 12:34 local time, roughly six hours into the mission, the Army Security Agency and radars in Korea detected the takeoff of two North Korean Air Force MiG-21s from East Tongchong-ni near Wonsan and tracked them, assuming that they were responding in some fashion to the mission of Deep Sea 129. In the meantime the EC-121 filed a scheduled activity report by radio on time at 13:00 and did not indicate anything out of the ordinary, but this was the last message sent from the plane. Twenty-two minutes later the radars lost the picture of the MiGs and did not reacquire it until 13:37, where they were closing with Deep Sea 129 for a probable intercept.
The communications that this activity generated within the National Security network was monitored by the EC-121’s parent unit, VQ-1, which at 13:44 sent Deep Sea 129 a “Condition 3” alert by radio, indicating it might be under attack. LCDR Overstreet acknowledged the warning and complied with procedures to abort the mission and return to base. Approaching from the northeastern coast at supersonic speed, the MiGs easily overtook the EC-121, who could do little with their “warning.” The MiGs were armed with 23 mm cannons and AA-2 Atoll missiles; the EC-121 was unarmed and without a fighter escort. At 13:47 the radar tracks of the MiGs merged with that of Deep Sea 129, which disappeared from the radar picture two minutes later.
The MiGs had blown the EC-121 out of the sky, and while the details of the incident have never been released to the public, it is assumed that an air-to-air missile was used as the North Korean press mentioned that a “single shot” downed the aircraft.