Recently declassified United States Air Force documents from the Vietnam War suggest a friendly fire incident, in which two men died, was linked to a “UFO problem.”
Paul Dean, a respected UFO researcher from Australia, has uncovered a declassified USAF report that states the military was consistently having UFO sightings and unidentified radar returns appear over the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Vietnam during the height of the Vietnam War.
One particular incident, mentioned in the declassified report, involved an American F-4 Phantom fighter/bomber firing three missiles at three unidentified radar tracks thought to be North Vietnamese M-14 Hound transport helicopters. The missiles never hit their intended targets, and instead struck the Australian Navy Destroyer HMAS Hobart, killing two Australian seamen, and wounding a dozen others. Historically, the attack on the Hobart was one of the worst friendly fire incidents of the Vietnam War.
Dean, who operates a blog called UFOs – Documenting the Evidence, recently published the USAF declassified report, and it clearly indicates that the military was being actively plagued by unidentified flying objects during the Vietnam War.
According to the Royal Australian Navy’s website, and the USAF report, at 3:00 am on June 17th, 1968, the F-4 Phantom involved in the accidental attack on the Hobart was actively tracking three unknown airborne objects off the coast of North Vietnam. The aircraft fired one Sparrow AIM-7 air-to-air (a missile intended for airborne targets) at one of the unknown radar tracks. That missile slammed into the HMAS Hobart instead, killing Ordinary Seaman R. J. Butterworth and wounding two others. As the crew of the Hobart rushed to their stations, roughly three minutes later, the F-4 Phantom fired another two Sparrow missiles at the unidentified radar targets. Those two missiles struck the Hobart as well, wounding a dozen others and killing Chief Electrician R.H. Hunt. The Hobart’s forward guns fired five rounds at the F-4 Phantom, which then broke off its attack and headed South away from the DMZ. That morning, other vessels in the area were also accidentally attacked by USAF F-4 Phantoms. There is significant controversy in regards to this incident, and the official explanation as to why the USAF fired upon allied Australian vessels has been chalked up into a tragic case of target misidentification during a night attack.
While there may never be a concrete answer as to what precipitated this incident, the Air Force documents discovered by Paul Dean seem to point towards a common problem during the war, a “UFO problem.” Dean knows that these radar returns were definitely not enemy helicopters,
“…if all the lights in the sky and radar returns were indeed enemy helicopters, they must have been suicidal. The North Vietnamese’s most valuable aerial assets would surely not fly, night after night, brazenly right in front of gun boats, guided missile ships (the Hobart) and the might of the USAF. They would be like sitting ducks.”
In a recently declassified tactical evaluation report entitled Project CHECO South East Asia Report: Air War In The DMZ September 1967 – June 1968”, Dean found official references to UFOs and the HMAS Hobart. The report states on page 45,
“The several direct hits or near misses on friendly vessels by the Air Force missiles obviously raised the question of what went wrong with target acquisition. The pilots, based on their radar and visual sightings, fired at what they thought were helicopters. The joint service conference on the UFO problem took note of one possibility…”
The above passage ends with a mysterious footnote, “128”, which, according to Dean, is a raw USAF report that is “almost certainly now either destroyed (they don’t keep everything), or stored as raw intelligence, operational, or administrative material which would be amongst millions of similar files in archives somewhere in the United States.” Only one paragraph from “128” is present in the CHECO document. On page 46, it reads,
“It is important to note that only in the case of the Hobart were the recorded targets in close proximity to ships. It is possible that targets fired on were airborne and that missiles subsequently [were] guided on the stronger radar return from ships in the vicinity.”
Dean points out a few key phrases present in this report. First, the pilots who fired upon the Hobart used a mix of “radar and visual sightings [and] fired at what they thought were helicopters.” This begs the question, how could trained fighter pilots mistake a 4,000 ton, 440 foot guided missile destroyer moving in the water for 55 foot airborne helicopters?
The report also elaborates that during the month of August, only two months after the Hobart incident, the USAF “flew a total of 12 sorties against 34 radar–plotted UFO targets” none of which were photographed by on board gun cameras, nor was any wreckage located. The report also details a specific investigation made by the Air Force into UFOs over the Vietnamese DMZ called Project Have Fear;
“The primary mission of project HAVE FEAR did not concern the helicopter reports, but this Air Force Weapons Laboratory project had laser range finders and night observation devices (NOD) that offered some chance of identifying the sightings. HAVE FEAR personnel saw red lights and got video blips. The UFOs usually traveled at speeds from 30 to 80 mph at altitudes from 1,200 to 1,600 feet. After several days of tracking, the red blinking lights would extinguish when under HAVE FEAR surveillance.”
During his investigation, Dean noticed that this paragraph also contained an interesting reference to another intelligence document titled “Msg, 7AF to COMUSMACV, ‘Summary Report of UFOs in DMZ’, 19 Sep 68.” Dean notes that this mysterious summary report does not appear in the Project Blue Book documents (the USAF’s “official” public investigation of UFOs which ended in 1969); Dean states that this proves the Air Force was studying UFOs outside of the auspices of the Blue Book program. Dean also believes that, as more documents from that era are being released, significant evidence is mounting that anomalous activity was occurring in the skies over Vietnam. Dean explains,
“If the Hobart event was the only one rumoured UFO related event, I would be less inclined to take this very far. But there are new reports and documents coming out from the entire Vietnam War period that are consistently showing odd aerial activity beyond mere choppers or flak or stars and planets.”
History may never be able to prove that UFOs were fundamentally responsible for the friendly fire attack on the HMAS Hobart, however, as documents, such as the one discovered by Dean, continue to be declassified, historians may have to begin acknowledging the more mysterious aspects of this particular war. More importantly, another piece of evidence has just joined the long list of documentation that proves Project Blue Book was not the final say on the American Air Force’s foray into Ufology. Whatever these curious unidentified objects might be, they did appear on radar and, at times, pilots were able to achieve visual sightings. Whatever that F-4 Phantom pilot saw on that early June morning in 1968, two men died and a dozen were injured as a result. The USAF clearly investigated what happened, and more importantly, openly admitted to there being a “UFO problem” that could have led to this tragic incident.