Real Names: Sgt. Peter Cressman, Dale Brandenburg, Joseph Matejov, and Todd Melton
Case: Lost Crew
Date: February 5, 1973
Details: On January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords had been formally ratified, which meant that there would be no more American involvement in the Vietnam War. However, as many soldiers were planning to return home to their families, others were still involved in missions. Sgt. Peter Cressman, an electronics expert who flew top-secret reconnaissance missions, wrote an angry letter to his congressman. He stated that he and others in his unit were in violation of the Paris Peace Accords, being forced to continue missions despite the official end of American involvement in the war. He also stated that he wanted to refuse orders, but feared the consequences.
On February 5, 1973, Peter, along with Dale Brandenburg, Joseph Matejov, Todd Melton, George Spitz, Severo Primm, Robert Bernhardt and Arthur Bollinger boarded a EC47Q surveillance plane called "Baron 52" to fly on a secret mission. The electronic experts (Peter, Joseph, Dale, and Todd) were situated in the back of the plane. The flight plan called for the plane to fly from Ubon Air Force Base in Thailand to Laos. The assignment was to monitor North Vietnamese tanks that were moving into Cambodia along the Ho Chi Min trail.
At 11:05 pm, the plane departed. Two and a half hours later, reports came in that the plane was receiving heavy ground fire. Five minutes later, radio contact ceased. Two days later, the wreckage of Baron 52 was located in the jungle deep inside Laos. At the time, the rescue team was only able to recover the remains of one of the pilots, Robert Bernhardt. The team did notice three other bodies in the wreckage; two were sitting in the pilot and co-pilot seat. However, they could not be recovered at the time. The other men were considered missing in action.
Joseph Matejov's mother Mary recalled the day that she and her husband were informed of the crash. Two military men informed them that he was missing in action, that his plane had been shot down, and that he and others may have bailed out before the crash. Eighteen days later, however, the family was informed that there was no chance that any of them survived because the plane went into a tailspin after being hit.
Peter Cressman's mother Evelyn remembered the day that she was informed that their statuses were being changed from "missing in action" to "killed in action". She accepted the ruling at first, believing they had positive proof. A few weeks later, they received Peter's belongings. The letter he had written to the congressman made them feel suspicious of the official ruling.
Peter's parents learned that four parachutes were missing from the crash site, suggesting that four men escaped. They spent five years writing to military officials, seeking specific details about his case. The Air Force consistently responded: based on the condition of the wreckage and lack of distress call, there was not enough time for the men to bail out. The official report concluded that all members of Baron 52 were killed in the crash.
In June 1978, the Cressmans received a phone call from an attorney with the National MIA organization. The man claimed that he had seen evidence that at least four people on Baron 52 survived and had been captured by North Vietnamese forces. He had learned of report by investigative journalist Jack Anderson, which stated that U.S. intelligence had intercepted some communication by Vietnamese forces, shortly after the downing of Baron 52.
Terrell Minarcin worked for the NSA in 1973, deciphering North Vietnamese messages. He found communication between North Vietnamese, requesting transportation for captured American pilots. Due to the ceasefire, he believed that the only men that could have been captured were members of Baron 52. He believes that the men were captured after parachuting from the plane.
After learning this information, the Matejovs went to the Pentagon and looked at their son's file. In the file, there were copies of the radio intercepts, although they were mostly blacked out. They believe that they found enough information that showed that the government knew the four men had been captured.
The Defense Intelligence Agency confirmed that the north Vietnamese communication existed; however, they stated that the nationality of the captured pilots was never specified. They did not believe the captured men were from Baron 52. In 1986, however, retired intelligence analyst Jerry Mooney testified before Congress, stating that Peter Cressman, Joseph Matejov, Dale Brandenburg, and Todd Melton were prisoners of war. However, he claimed that they were being held in the Soviet Union, not southeast Asia. Terrell Minarcin believe that this was possible, as prisoners with "special knowledge" were being taken from Vietnam to Moscow.
However, there is no concrete evidence that POWs were being taken from Vietnam to the Soviet Union. The Matejov family believes that the men's capture by the Vietnamese was covered up due to it occurring after the Paris Peace Accord. Mary Matejov spoke with Dr. Roger Shields, the assistant Secretary of Defense at the Paris peace talks. He claims that he was told to cross off Peter, Joseph, Dale, and Todd's names from a government list of American POWs captured in Vietnam.
However, Shields recently claimed that he was not ordered to cross off the men's names. He does state that he believes that the men were captured and may still be alive. This evidence gives the families of the missing crew members hope that they are still alive and will one day be found.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the October 16, 1991 episode.
Results: Unresolved. In November of 1992, a joint task force excavated the Baron 52 crash site and recovered the partial remains of seven men. None of the remains could be positively identified, but the military and many of the family members of the missing men believe that they are their remains. In fact, Joseph Matejov's dog tags were recovered and identified. For unknown reasons, some of the families refused to have DNA testing done on the remains. In December of 1995, the remains of the Baron 52 crew were finally laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Robert A. Cressman, the older brother of Sgt. Peter Cressman, further adds that his brother was positively identified by CILHI based on dental x-rays. The US Air Force provided those x-rays to his family which showed a full set of upper and lower teeth. However, Peter had several teeth knocked out prior to entry into the USAF which adds further doubt to the identification. To this day, the Cressmans and Matejovs are still searching for answers.
- Baron 52 at Wikipedia
- Baron 52 at Arlington Cemetery
- Baron 52 at 6994th Security Squadron
- Mystery of the Last Flight of Baron 52 Solved
- Baron 52: The Facts - MIA Facts
- Vietnam War airman's death re-examined after decades of controversy