22 November 1972

A Boeing B-52D Stratofortress dropping a load of bombs during the Vietnam War. The B-52D could carry up to 108 MK82 500-pounds bombs. (U.S. Air Force)

22 November 1972: The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers began combat operations in the Vietnam War with ARC LIGHT strikes against enemy troop concentrations and supply lines in June 1966. The B-52s flew so high and fast that they could neither be seen nor heard on the ground. It was more than six years before the first of the eight-engine bombers would be lost to enemy action.

Boeing B-52D-65-BO 55-0110 at U Tapao RTAFB. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52D-65-BO Stratofortress 55-0110, weapons loading. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Norbert J. Ostrozny, U.S. Air Force

B-52D-65-BO 55-0110, call sign OLIVE 2, was assigned to the 96th Bombardment Wing, Heavy. It flew combat missions from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and the U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield, Thailand. On 22 November, -110 was crewed by Captain Norbert J. Ostrozny, aircraft commander; Captain P. A. Foley, co-pilot; Bud Rech, radar navigator; Captain Robert Estes, navigator; Larry Stephens, electronic warfare officer; and Staff Sergeant Ronald W. Sellers, gunner.

Near Vinh, on the central coast of North Vietnam, OLIVE 2 was struck by an exploding S-75 Dvina surface to-air missile (NATO identified the S-75 as the SS-2 Guideline, commonly referred to as a SAM). The S-75 is a Soviet two-stage command-guided surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile. It is 10.60 meters (34 feet, 9.3 inches) long and 0.7 meter (2 feet, 3.6 inches) in diameter. It is liquid-fueled and has a maximum speed of Mach 4 and range of 24 kilometers (15 miles). The missile has a 200 kilogram (441 pound) fragmentation warhead. The loaded weight is 2,300 kilograms (5,071 pounds).

OLIVE 2 was seriously damaged and on fire, and the flight crew turned toward the airfield at U-Tapao.

North Vietnamese missileers prepare an S-75 Dvina (NATO: SA-2 Guideline) for launch. (Popperphoto/Getty Images)

After crossing the Thailand border, Captain Ostrozny ordered the crew to eject from the stricken bomber. All six crewmen escaped the doomed Stratofortress and were later rescued by a Sikorsky HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant search-and-rescue helicopter.

55-0110 crashed 15 miles (24 kilometers) southwest of Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. It was the first Stratofortress lost to enemy action in more than six years of combat.

Boeing B-52D-30-BW Stratofortress 55-662 crosses the perimeter fence on approach to U-Tapao Airfield, Thailand. OLIVE 2 did not return from its final mission. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-52D-30-BW Stratofortress 55-662 crosses the perimeter fence on approach to U-Tapao Airfield, Thailand, 30 October 1972. OLIVE 2 did not return from its final mission. (National Archives and Records Administration/U.S. Air Force)

The United States Air Force flew more than 125,000 combat sorties with the B-52 from 1966 to 1973. During that time, the bombers delivered 2,949,615 tons of bombs against enemy targets. A total of 31 B-52s were lost. 73 crewmen were killed in action and 33 captured and held as prisoners of war.

My thanks to Colonel Knox Bishop, U.S. Air Force (Retired), for contributing the additional details.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 thoughts on “22 November 1972

  1. I had the privilege of loading her with 500 pounders and 750 pounders many times. She currently is resting at WPAFB in the museum.

    1. It’s so cool when I see posts by guys who worked with the specific aircraft I see in photos. I’m sure you are proud to have loaded 55-0110. I’m a little envious.

      This may seem trivial, but I was assigned to air show duty at Plattsburgh AFB in ’72. I was proud and excited to walk a wing of a Buff.

      I’m glad “Old One Hundred” is on display at Wright – Pat.

  2. Was flying out of Nakhom Phanom with the 1st SOS at that time and three Buffs went in in that area during Linebacker II.
    All due respect to all the B-52 crews and their planners and maintainers for their efforts.

  3. BTW, perfect post for the ACSC curriculum as we are about to study the Vietnam Air War. Great job bringing a lot of details to light in a single post. I shared with my faculty! Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. I was living in a “hooch” a couple of yards away from my USAFA classmate “Oz”. I saw him on crutches and asked with a grin if he’d hurt himself playing tennis. Don’t remember the response but I felt pretty foolish when the whole story came out.

  5. Check Out Myles McTernan on the Internet. Some stories of the last B52 hit over Vinh and flew for 40 minutes to bail out off the coast at DaNang. 01/04/73

  6. Saw this about the helicopter rescue: 1972 – November 22; A HH-43F from the 40th ARRS, crewed by Lt. Col. Robert F. Reeves (P), Robert D. Thompson (CP), unkn (PJ) and unkn (FF), rescued crew members, Capt. Norbert J., Ostronzny (P) and Capt. P. A. Foley (CP), from a B-52D (Call sign “Olive 02”) that had been hit and heavily damaged, at high altitude, by a SAM about twenty five miles north of Vinh, NVN and flown into Thailand before they were forced to abandon their aircraft about fifteen miles southwest of Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, Thailand. Of special interest is that one of the B-52D crew members, Larry Stephens (EWO), ‘rescued’ himself by flagging down and catching a local Thai “Bhat Bus” for a ride to the main gate of Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, Thailand. “Vietnam Air Losses” by Chris Hobson & “More Memories of Naked Fanny” by Robert Dennard & JRCC Save Form & http://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=48322 & “PJ’s in Vietnam” by Robert L. LaPointe

  7. and this: 1972 – November 22; A CH-53C (Call sign Knife) from the 21st SOS, crewed by Lt. Mike Humphres (P) unkn (CP), unkn (FE) and unkn (FE), that was airborne on a night reconniassance and flair drop mission, rescued crew members, Capt. Robert Estes (NAV), SSgt. Ron Sellers (AG), Capt. John Ellinger (AC) and one other unkn, from a B-52D (Call sign “Olive 02”) that had been hit and heavily damaged, at high altitude, by a SAM about twenty five miles north of Vinh, NVN and flown into Thailand before they were forced to abandon their aircraft about fifteen miles southwest of Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, Thailand. Of special interest is that one of the B-52D crew members, Larry Stephens (EWO), ‘rescued’ himself by flagging down and catching a local Thai “Baht Bus” for a ride to the main gate of Nakhon Phanom RTAFB, Thailand. “Vietnam Air Losses” by Chris Hobson & “More Memories of Naked Fanny” by Robert Dennard & JRCC Save Form & http://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=48322 & “PJ’s in Vietnam” by Robert L. LaPointe

  8. The AC (OZ) questioned why the sorties always flew in trail when bombing targets in North Vietnam at the pretakeoff briefing for this mission. It took half way through Linebacker II before this issue was resolved.

  9. I see cousin Larry Stephen’s weekly in our Bible study. Such a humble great man. Never knew this story. He just says he was shot down. My wife is the Stephen’s.

  10. Having been the B52 scheduling officer at Dyess before Oz’s crew deployed, I knew all of them. When they were shot down, I was back on alert as a crew dog RN. There was great rrelief at Dyess when we learned all were safe.

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