5 December 1956 – A Northrop XSM-62 Snark, 53-8172, N-69D test model, fitted with a new 24-hour stellar inertial guidance system, launches from Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex, Florida. It wanders off-course, ignores destruct command, disappears over Brazil. It is found by a farmer in January 1983. The Day They Lost the Snark By J.
James Vernon Dawson - KIA
James V. (Jim) Dawson was born on February 16, 1940 and raised in Ashland, KY. Jim graduated from the U. S. Military Academy, West Point, NY in June 1963. He received his commission in the Air Force. Unable to meet the vision standards for pilot training, he went through navigator training at Mather AFB, CA.
There was never a dull moment with Jim. Yet, in spite of his breezy personality, there was a strong, tough, and tenacious spirit that wanted a lot out of life and had the determination to get it. He could be serious when he wanted, and when he chose the U.S. Air Force, he showed everyone that he was not the standard Army-loving breed of cat like so many of us.
Jim was assigned to the 416 th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 31 st Tactical Fighter Wing, Tuy Hoa AB, Vietnam. On 16 July 1969, Capt. Dawson was the pilot of the number two aircraft (serial #56-3420), call sign “Elect 62,” in a flight of two that departed Tuy Hoa Airbase to conduct a routine combat mission. All aspects of the flight progressed normally and uneventfully until they returned to base.
At 1218 hours, Elect Lead landed from the southwest to northeast with Elect 62 in trail. During his final approach, Capt. Dawson overshot the runway and was instructed by the Runway Control Officer to go around for another try. He did not acknowledge the command; however, the RCO and others on the flight line reported that Jim appeared to apply power to his Super Sabre as he continued toward the northeast.
Shortly thereafter, the RCO saw the canopy come off and the ejection seat fire as the aircraft rolled to the right with its nose low. At this time the aircraft was nearly one mile from the end of the runway and at an altitude estimated to be 300 feet above the South China Sea. Capt. Dawson’s parachute did not have enough time to deploy and it is questionable as to whether or not there was time for the pilot to separate from the ejection seat before hitting the water.
An Army helicopter was onsite within seconds and Air Force search and rescue (SAR) helicopters as well as two Navy Swift Boats were there within minutes. The extensive search continued until dark on the day of loss, resumed the next day at dawn and continued until 1600 hours. Recovery personnel described the current at the scene as “swift and heading out to sea.”
Navy personnel used electronic sonar equipment to locate the wreckage in the roughly 80-foot deep water. Swift Boats PCF-73 and PCF-91 provided dive platforms for Air Force scuba divers who conducted the underwater search operation for Jim Dawson as well as for the salvage operation for the recovery of the aircraft’s wreckage. During the savage portion of the mission, the wings, tail, engine, canopy and most of the fuselage were recovered, but nothing of the pilot or the ejection seat was found. At the time the SAR operation was terminated, Jim Dawson was declared Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
Jim was married to Priscilla, and they had two sons, Bill and Lee.
Jim is memorialized at the Courts of the Missing Honolulu Memorial, an American Battle Monuments Commission location. He is also honored on the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, DC, Panel W20, Line 6. There is also a tombstone at the West Point Cemetery that honors him.
Bio Information provided by MGen Tom Griffith, President of the Super Sabre Society.