Litter 81 Found……

image1aOctober 2019

By Chris LaFrieda, PhD

Photographs by Digby Greenhalgh and Kai Chang

 

Introduction by Forrest Fenn
Christopher LaFrieda is a treasure hunter by hobby and a designer and maker of microchips when he is not thinking about WWWH. His PhD is in electrical engineering. He was studying my life looking for clues when he became interested in my Vietnam experience, especially the story about me being shot down. Before my mind could catch up with what he was doing, he was looking for my crashed F-100, deep in the Laotian Jungle. Yeah Chris, good luck with that one. This is his story. f


It’s still morning here in New Jersey, but it’s just past 11 p.m. in Laos. I should have heard from Digby and Kai by now. Communicating with my team in Sepon has been a constant struggle. There’s only a small window of time to arrange a call before they turn in for the night, exhausted from the long day spent in the extreme heat and humidity of the Laotian jungle. If that fails, then there’s an eight-hour wait to try again in their a.m. Today is different though.

This was our last shot to find the wreckage of a missing Vietnam-era warplane, an F-100D with serial number 55-3647. The pilot, who safely ejected and was rescued by helicopter over 50 years ago, is home in Santa Fe, New Mexico eagerly awaiting news of its fate. We’ve been growing increasingly confident about finding it over the past few days. I wouldn’t know how to break it to him if we are unsuccessful. I’m also starting to worry about my guys.

The United States dropped approximately 300 million bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War. About a third of those never went off and they continue to maim and kill to this day. The area around Sepon, where we are operating, is one of the most contaminated in all of Laos. Local guides will try to steer my team around unexploded ordnance, but much of it is hidden beneath the surface and you wouldn’t know it’s there until it’s too late. Oh, then there are the tigers.

Kai translates, “The boy says he saw a footprint the size of an open hand. That means the tiger is as big as a water buffalo.” They seemed to feel better when one of the guides offered to bring his AK-47 with them into the jungle. That only made me more nervous. The locals say not to bother worrying about tigers because the giant poisonous centipedes are the real danger. How did I get myself into this mess?

You may have heard that there is a treasure chest filled with gold hidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. In 2010, Forrest Fenn hid the chest with the hope that it would motivate people to “get off the couch” and experience nature. Forrest wrote a poem that contains clues to the location of the treasure and published it in his memoir, The Thrill of the Chase. In addition to the poem, Forrest teases that his memoir contains “subtle clues” hidden among its stories.

After nearly a decade, nobody has found the treasure. That’s just the sort of challenge that I can’t resist, so last year I picked up a copy of Forrest’s memoir. Its stories cover 80 years of Forrest’s life from his first steps at the beginning of the Great Depression right up to the time he hid the treasure. All the stories are fascinating, but one perfectly sums up Forrest’s special brand of luck and adventure—his rescue after being shot down as a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War.

image2 On December 20, 1968, Major Fenn was leading a flight of four F-100Ds under the call sign Litter 81. As part of Operation Commando Hunt, their mission was to drop ordnance on the main road leading into Tchepone, Laos (now known as Sepon) to disrupt the movement of North Vietnamese troops and equipment along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As Forrest made his passes over the target, his F-100 was hit and severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire. Rather than immediately heading for safe ground, Forrest charged the guns and marked them as targets for the rest of his flight (an act that earned him the Silver Star).

Forrest pulled away from the guns and, as instructed, took a heading of 030 for bailout. His plane held together long enough to get him to a remote stretch of jungle, about 20 miles away from the action, before he ejected. As Forrest descended in his parachute, he watched his F-100 crash into a distant cliff and explode in a giant fireball. After spending a harrowing night in the jungle and narrowly avoiding capture, his Forward Air Controller (FAC), James Swisher, found him the next morning and alerted rescue forces.

One Crown C-130, two Jolly Green HH-3Es, two Misty F-100Fs, four Sandy A-1s, and one Nail O-2 with a total crew of 26 all worked quickly to rescue the downed pilot. The Jolly Green helicopters, one low and one high (a backup), took their positions over Forrest, hoisted him out of the jungle, and ferried him safely to their base at Nakhon Phanom, Thailand. As was typical for the time, Forrest was given just a few moments for a photo op and to thank some of his rescuers before they all continued with the business of war. Forrest had the distinction of being the 1,500th combat save in Southeast Asia.
image3 1There was something about the rescue that puzzled me. Forrest was out of radio contact with his flight and rescue forces for about 14 hours. A cursory study of rescue operations from that era suggested that was an anomaly. Usually, a doomed aircraft would be escorted by a wingman through bailout. The wingman would then orbit near the downed pilot until rescue forces arrived, while maintaining constant radio contact with the survivor. In Forrest’s case, he had somehow been separated from the rest of his group and lost, then found the next day.  There had to be more to this story.

With the help of a retired Air Force historian, George Cully, I obtained mission reports from each of the units involved in the rescue. The full picture started coming into focus, but there were details that I would only learn after tracking down James Swisher, the FAC who found Forrest.

Wisher explained, “We [the FACs] were given a heading of 300 for bailouts in the morning briefing. Forrest ended up on a heading of 030, 90 degrees off. He punched up through a break in the clouds and we lost sight of him.” (It’s not clear where the incorrect heading came from, but Swisher’s account makes sense because 030 is toward North Vietnam.) Swisher assumed Forrest turned to 300 and they spent the first day looking for him in the wrong place. Early the next morning, Swisher returned with a pair of Misty F-100s (same plane as Forrest) and sent them along Forrest’s last known trajectory. When they cleared the mountains that were blocking Forrest’s transmissions, he came up on the radio.

“If I was 500 feet above where my chute is hanging in the trees,
I could point to where the plane crashed.”

In April of this year, I visited Forrest at his home in Santa Fe to discuss these newly found details about his rescue. Forrest sang my praises, “Chris is a ferret. I was looking for Swisher for 50 years and he found him in two weeks.” (It was closer to two months.) We spent the next couple of days poring over his collection of Vietnam memorabilia, which included a handwritten log of every mission he flew, his parachute beeper, combat maps, photo albums and letters. The pièce de résistance was a photograph taken by Roger Gibson, the copilot of the backup chopper, just as Forrest was being hoisted up out of the jungle.

At first glance, the photo appears to show only a lush green jungle surround by magnificent stone cliffs. Upon careful inspection, a tiny camouflaged helicopter can be seen nestled in the treetops. As Forrest held the photograph, he told me that in the 1970s, a filmmaker wanted to bring him back to Laos to find the wreckage of his airplane. “I was going to find the flight stick from my F-100 and bring it home. That would have been some trophy.” Forrest raised his hand slightly and closed his eyes as if he could see himself holding that piece of his airplane. For a moment, I thought I could see it too.

The project eventually fell through and it was clear that the passing decades did little to assuage Forrest’s disappointment. Forrest continued to regale me with stories about his tour in Vietnam, but my mind kept drifting back to the thought of finding his airplane. Fifty years had passed. Could it still be out there? I was confident that with the rescue photo and mission reports, I could find the exact spot where Forrest was pulled from the jungle. However, Forrest was the only person to see where his plane crashed. If there was any chance to find it, we’d have to rely on half-century-old memories to get us the rest of the way.

Over the next few weeks, I peppered Forrest with questions about his bailout. I did my best to disguise my intentions because I didn’t want to be the second person to get his hopes up and then shatter them. Forrest was able to recall that he was flying parallel to a cliff wall and that his plane crashed halfway up a distant cliff wall, approximately one minute after ejection. That reduced the search area to a series of cliffs about 3-4 miles from the extraction point. There was still too much ground to cover, so I tried to press him further. That’s when Forrest said, “If I was 500 feet above where my chute is hanging in the trees, I could point to where the plane crashed.” I suspect that was Forrest’s polite way of changing the subject, but it gave me an idea.

At age 88, Forrest wasn’t going to travel to Laos and fly around in a helicopter looking for wreckage. Fortunately, technology could provide an alternative. Forrest’s extraction point is roughly 13 miles north of Sepon, Laos on lands that belong to the Village of Ban Talouay. Satellite images show a clearing in the jungle about 1 mile east from the extraction point. If we can get permission from the village and if we could make it to the clearing, then we could send up a drone, get footage from Forrest’s parachute perspective, show it to Forrest and, hopefully, get a fix on the crash site. That’s a lot of ifs, and there really was no we yet, but the idea was technically sound.

I needed to assemble a team that included a translator, drone pilot and local guides. Due to the remoteness and rugged terrain of the area, it seemed logical to enlist the help of a travel agency that specializes in motorcycle tours of Laos. I reached out to James Barbush, an American expat living in Laos, and explained the situation. James runs Remote Asia Travel with his wife Quynh, and he personally has years of off-roading experience at remote locations in Laos, including near Sepon. James would serve as a one-stop shop of sorts. He recruited the required personnel, handled the equipment rentals, made the travel arrangements, and applied for all the necessary permits. The only caveat was that rainy season had just begun, and they’d have to wait for a break in the weather to proceed. The short delay gave me an opportunity to become acquainted with my team.

Kai Chang would act as translator and guide for this expedition. Kai is Laotian and speaks both Lao and English fluently. He’s worked for James as a motorcycle tour guide for over five years and led many weeks-long tours across the rough backroads of Laos. Over the years, Kai has developed contacts at many of the remote Laotian villages, including Ban Talouay.

Digby Greenhalgh is our drone pilot. Originally from Australia, Digby has lived in Hanoi for almost two decades. His company, Explore Indochina, provides motorcycle adventure tours across Laos and Vietnam. He has been exploring the Ho Chi Minh Trail by motorcycle for the past 17 years and has ridden the trail over 25 times. Digby has been featured on several television shows, including The World’s Most Dangerous Roads and Top Gear. More recently, Digby has been using drones to explore parts of the trail that are too dangerous to get to on foot.

After weeks of daily thunderstorms, the weather improved marginally to intermittent rain. It was decision time. James advised, “Go for it. Wait it out in Sepon and hit your weather windows as you can.” Digby seemed to concur, “The only way to know will be to stick our hands out the window in Sepon.” I brought Forrest up to speed and asked him to be ready to review the drone footage. Slightly stunned, he responded, “This is exciting, Chris. I’ll do what I can.” There was no backing out now. We were a go.

On the morning of June 11, Digby and Kai departed from Vientiane on motorcycle. The 400-mile trek to Ban Talouay was impeded by poor road conditions and the occasional downpour. They arrived at the village the following day and arranged a meeting with the naiban (village chief). Armed with a photograph of Forrest, Kai, speaking in Lao, relayed the story of Forrest’s rescue and his desire to find the remains of his missing F-100. The naiban was sympathetic. Not only did he grant access to their lands, but he also arranged for three hunters from a neighboring village to serve as guides. Their chat was followed by friendly carousing and storytelling into the night.

The naiban has lived in the village his entire life. During the Vietnam War, when he was just a boy, the village was moved farther up into the valley, not far from where Forrest spent the night in the jungle. The naiban revealed that there were Vietnamese bases throughout the area—a fact that underscored how fortunate Forrest was to escape capture. The North Vietnamese fed and looked after the villagers, and in return the villagers helped them. After being on opposite sides of such a brutal and devastating war, the naiban had readily offered us his assistance. In a way, I felt this expedition was already a success.

Early the next day, Kai and Digby regrouped at the naiban’s house for a quick introduction to their guides, Su, Noob and Don. The five men crowded onto three motorcycles and started up the dirt road at the west side of the village. The rocky narrow road cuts a swath through an overgrown jungle that occasionally blocks out the sky above them. They followed the road over streams and rain-filled depressions, passing through a bamboo gate, and eventually reaching its end at a dry creek bed, about 3 miles into the valley. They parked their bikes and continued on foot.

Over the next half mile, the creek bed turns into a stream, then into a full-fledged gorge with sheer stone walls as it squeezes between two mountains. The crew navigated the meandering path as the rocks beneath their feet grew from stones to boulders. Just past the narrowest section of gorge, the grade quickly lessens and the stone walls crumble, yielding to the jungle environment. The guides escorted the group up a steep trail to a hilltop clearing.

“They sometimes go up there to hunt.
There are plane parts along the base of the cliff.”

The clearing offers a unique 360-degree view of the entire jungle valley, which is surrounded by a C-shaped mountain range with 1,000-foot-high stone bluffs. Waist-high and shoulder-high crops with long narrow stalks cover sections of the clearing. Digby inquired, “Kai, can you ask the guys what they planted here?” Kai translated, “They say the tall plants are exported to China or Vietnam to make fiber for clothes. The smaller one, the people use it to make a roof for their house.” The guides further explained that the villagers cleared out the trees just two years ago. Prior to that, our expedition wouldn’t have been possible.

Digby laid out his equipment and prepped the drone for launch. The cliffs in the rescue photo perfectly matched the cliffs to the west of their position; Digby knew exactly where he needed to go. He piloted the drone a mile out to precisely where Forrest broke through the jungle canopy, climbed to 500 feet and scanned the mountains on the far side. With the remaining battery, Digby made a pass along the western side of the bluffs and then hightailed it back to the clearing. He checked the drone footage and made an exciting discovery.

From what seems to have been Forrest’s vantage point during bailout, the surrounding terrain masks all but one 700-foot-long section of distant cliffs—it was the only place that fit his description of the crash site. Digby signaled for the guides to come over and pointed out the location on a map. They became animated and started talking over each other. Kai summarized, “They sometimes go up there to hunt. There are plane parts along the base of that cliff. They say that is where the plane crashed.”

This crash site is one of several nearby sites that are known to the villagers. They normally don’t advertise the locations of these sites, but they felt compelled to after we made the connection. Over the years, these sites were stripped of most of their metal to support construction booms in Vietnam and China. Only small fragments or non-metallic items remain. The guides cautioned that the three-hour hike to the crash site would be difficult, but they were willing to take Kai out there the next day. Kai agreed and the group retraced their steps back to Ban Talouay.

That night, back at the hotel, Digby updated Forrest and me on the recent developments and sent us some drone footage to review. Forrest confirmed, “That is exactly as I remember it.” We planned to have Kai take two cell phones to the crash site and photograph every piece of wreckage with emphasis on anything with a serial number. We scheduled a call for 9 p.m. the following night. Kai should be back before then. That gave me a day to figure out how to identify an airplane from small parts.

Fortunately, the National Archives hosts a database of all aircraft losses during the Vietnam War with their last known coordinates. Those records show that 183 planes were lost within 30 miles of the crash site. Only four of those planes, including Forrest’s, were F-100s. Forrest ejected 3 miles from the crash site. The other F-100s were reported to have crashed or exploded at least 15 miles away. If the wreckage is from an F-100, then there would be no doubt that we found Forrest’s plane.

In my collection of F-100 materials, I had a copy of a technical manual named Illustrated Parts Breakdown. That manual contains a complete list of the F-100’s more than 30,000 parts. If we find any serial numbers belonging to an F-100, they’ll be in there. I placed the manual next to the phone on my desk. I was ready. All I could do now was wait.

A little after 11 p.m. Laos time, the phone rings.

“Mr. Chris” a voice beams with an Australian accent that I’ve become accustomed to. “Yes, Mr. Digby,” I returned, sensing the incoming good news. “Tell Forrest to break out the bubbly, we found Litter 81.” An elated Digby and Kai recount the events of that day…

That morning, Kai rendezvoused with the guides at Ban Talouay and, this time, they rode off on the trail at the northern side of the village. Near the end of the trail, they ditched the bikes and headed northeast into the jungle on a barely visible footpath. After a short walk, the jungle opens at a hidden rice paddy packed with green shoots and dotted with burnt tree stumps, a byproduct of slash-and-burn. They continued along a stream at the northern end of the paddy.

The stream grows in size and intensity as they near its source—a small waterfall flowing over a stone ledge and into a pool of clear water. The last mile of the journey is a steep 1,300-foot climb up the mountain. Stone slabs form a natural staircase and exposed roots act as handholds to aid the group as they ascend. After an exhausting two-hour climb, they reached a relatively flat tree-covered ridge at the base of 1,000-foot-high stone cliffs.

On site, there were no obvious signs of wreckage. The guides grabbed some flat rocks to use as makeshift shovels and began excavating through leaves and topsoil from a squat position. They uncovered tire fragments, bits of aluminum, fuel cell bladders, wires, hoses and screws. Kai carefully scraped the dirt off the parts with his fingers and photographed each item, making sure to capture any serial numbers.

On the return trip, the guides stopped to bathe in the pool at the small waterfall before returning to the village. Ban Talouay was alive with singing and dancing. Neighboring villages had joined in the festivities and they were feasting on a large pig that was spit roasted over an open fire. It was a wedding! Kai said his goodbyes to our new friends and made his way back to the hotel.

As I listened to the story, I felt an adrenaline rush come over me. It quickly turned to panic as I began to worry: What if we found the wrong plane? I needed to research those plane parts ASAP.

The tire fragments are from a Goodyear size 3.0 x 8.8 tire with a ply rating of 22. They match only one type of aircraft with losses in Laos, the F-100. Hose assembly #601335-8-0104 is from the hydraulic oil pump attached to the F-100 engine. Similarly, all the other identifiable parts are a match to the F-100. We did it. We found Litter 81.

Weeks later, a package arrived. I can’t say how, but a small piece of aluminum, vibrating with the spirit of Litter 81, made its way down the mountain and traveled halfway around the world to get to me. I padded a small wooden box, placed the metal bit inside, closed the lid and shipped it to Santa Fe. Shortly after, I received an email from Forrest:
“You are an absolute genius. That fragment is so beautiful. Words cannot describe how I feel about this little thing, Chris. It is a real part of me now. Thank you so much. 
Forrest”

 

Additional Photos:

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Leaving Ban Talquay

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Ride up the Valley

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The gorge narrows

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Digby hauls drone equipment out of the gorge

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Kai (right)and hunters at the clearing

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Digby retrieves his drone

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Rescue site in 1968

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Rescue site today

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Crash site at distant cliff topcezter) as seen from drone

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A hidden rice paddy

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Su crosses a stream the easy way

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The waterfall pool

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Noob scales the stone staircase

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Cliffs at crash site

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Fragments from Goodyear tire, size 30 x 8.8, 22ply

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Hose assembly #601335-8-0104

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Fuel cell bladder

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Test reads: “CLOSED” “OPEN” POSITION

 

Videos:

Digby and Kai at the clearing:

 

Drone footage from extraction site (no audio):

 

Hike to crash site / wreckage:

 

 

 

 

 

151 thoughts on “Litter 81 Found……

  1. Dang, that is amazing!!

    Thank you Chris, Forrest and Dal for sharing.

    “You are an absolute genius. That fragment is so beautiful. Words cannot describe how I feel about this little thing, Chris. It is a real part of me now. Thank you so much. 
Forrest”…..can’t add anything to that, it says it all.

    Chris, you ever give thought to searching for Amelia??

    Good Luck to you in the Chase…..Lead Searcher, indeed!! 🙂

  2. WOW! What an accomplishment. I know it brings back memories both good and bad Forrest. But what a story. You are a true Hero in every respect, I know you may not care for that term. But from one Vet to another, Thankyou For Your service in a time of mixed emotions, and thankyou for your story. A salute you cannot see is being given you Sir. I am only sorry you cannot see it in person..

  3. WOW! What an accomplishment. I know it brings back memories both good and bad Forrest. But what a story. You are a true Hero in every respect, I know you may not care for that term. But from one Vet to another, Thankyou For Your service in a time of mixed emotions, and thankyou for your story. A salute you cannot see is being given you Sir. I am only sorry you cannot see it in person..

    • Thank you for your service. I’ve had the honor of talking to many vets throughout this process. You are all national treasures and your stories inspire me.

  4. Holy moly… what an incredible story! Very well written account of the journey and subsequent findings. I had goosebumps as they uncovered the pieces of plane, and almost had tears in my eyes as they identified the pieces belonging to Forrest’s plane. I am a sentimental person and understand what this meant to Forrest. Thanks for sharing this with the search community, Forrest. My thoughts after pondering this incredible find… why can’t one of us (especailly me) find Forrest’s treasure chest??? I guess I need to take my drone next year.

      • I think a drone maybe able to locate the TC as long as it can fly very close to the exact point, say 5 or 6 ft from the TC. Unless you can navigate your drone that close there is no way you can locate what you’re looking for, IMO.
        It is a very interesting and exciting story, worth to be made into a movie.
        — MajinKing

  5. WOW; It amazes me that the terrain and color of the cliffs could look so much like places we have here in the States! They say everyone has a twin could that be possible in geography also? Thank you for sharing this with us f.

  6. What an incredible story! Wow! Thank you for daring to conceive it and having the perseverance to see it through and complete such an amazing feat! To everyone involved I say thank you! What a gift for Forrest to have a piece of that come home! Thank you for sharing with the community too!

  7. The Longitude co ordinates of where Forrest was rescued are in the page of that #, in Too Far To Walk, it is eerie to see that this exact number is also in the US Rocky Mountain Chain and dissects Leadville Co at 10,200′ and the New Mexico border comes into sharp focus on the same longitude with and exact photo of that location in my video of 2017, coincidence? I do not think so, but you be the judge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-GD4vhA3No See this film at 8 min in and tell me if it looks like a twin Cliff but half a world of separation, east hemisphere vs west hemisphere, I shot this exactly 2 years ago in New Mexico….

    TT

  8. Wow Chris! Thank you for sharing all of your hard work. That’s an incredible story. It’s amazing how you can really tell that’s the same cliff 50 years later. If you can find that plane, you can find that treasure chest. Did they see any parachutes hanging from trees?

    I really enjoyed that write up. Thank you.

    • We didn’t see the parachute in the drone footage. Our backup plan, if we didn’t find the plane, was for them to hike out to the spot where Forrest was pulled out of the jungle. There should be 50lbs of survival gear, a pistol, camera and other little treasures to find.

  9. The “blaze” was long gone…In spite of that, Chris ‘s team managed to find parts smaller than 10x10x5 inches.
    I hope Digby and Kai and the rest do not decide to locate the chest… 🙂

  10. What a heart-warming story! How pleasant to start the morning reading of strangers helping each other and overcoming daunting odds. And what a unique way to honor Forrest. Talk about your acts of random kindness!! Thank you Chris & company.

    NP

  11. Wow! What an incredible story. It brought tears to my eyes to read it. Thank you Chris, for your detailed account of this find. It must help Forrest feel some resolution to know his lost plane has been found and to actually hold a piece of it in his hand.

    I guess it also shows that with the right data, determination, and BOTG we can find almost anything that has been lost or hidden. Hope you are still celebrating!

  12. Chris, what an awesome story!
    How wonderful you found Mr. Fenn’s wreck plane, I can’t imagine how Mr. Fenn felt, I just love it!
    Mr. Fenn is a hero and loves his Country, what an honorable way to respect him, Chris!
    What beautiful country. The pictures are great Chris, nature hasn’t changed much!
    Forward Air Controller found him! Thank God!
    It just goes to show, if there’s a will there’s a way!
    Thank you Mr. Fenn, for your unselfish sacrifice for our Country!
    I think this is the best scrapbook of all!
    Congratulations Chris, and Mr. Fenn!
    Thank you Dal, for posting an awesome scrapbook! Best regards, Martha

  13. Wow what an amazing story! Thank you Forrest for sharing it with us, I can only imagine the feelings you must have after so many years.
    Jen

  14. Thank you so much for sharing. What an incredible true story, Chris. I love everything about it. It makes me hunger for the next adventure. I love beginnings.

  15. I Have to say again Forrest, in your own way you have shown the honor of our men and women in the military. When you show how many put their lives on the line to go out, find, and retrieve one of their brothers who is in peril. No medal or reward could ever match your courage and control of thought when you equipment blasted to pieces. Your calm intellect and manor saved not only your life but also those who came to your aid. The greatest medal you wear is that of a suit of armor that you share with those who came for you, that of the Brother Hood of Arms. There in that is a knighthood no King, Queen, or President could ever bestow upon anyone. No you didn’t do it for medals of man, but for the spirit of man. You should fill your heart with that Honor you possess.

  16. Simply amazing Chris!

    Your adventure and its results are a clear message to all future adventures.
    Follow the clues, stay focused, and determined. As an amateur treasure hunter, I learned that there will be traces of history anywhere if one is so inclined to research and look where research leads. For some reason I get this feeling there is an unintended hint buried within this story. Only Forrest knows though.

    Forrest that little scrap must be one of the highlights of your life.
    Oddly enough a symbol of tragedy and triumph, glad you made it home.

    Hdd

  17. The human spirit at its best!

    Those parts from an aircraft from so long ago were found by a team that simply went there with one simple noble purpose. The motivation was to bring Forrest’s plane (or some tangible part of it) home where it belongs – with its pilot. I can’t imagine what it meant to Forrest to open that package with pieces of his long lost confidant – truly pieces of himself that were left behind in the jungle long ago. Welcome home!

  18. Chris,
    You have proved that you are the #1 searcher, hands down. Well done sir! Congrats to you and your team. Now, please, do not search for the chest! Ha!

    • This adventure has consumed much of my free time. I haven’t spent time on the overall chase in 2019. You’re safe. For now!

      • Great job Chris. Now, we just need you to go find the waterfall Forrest visited so we can find out the name of the soldiers on the gravestones. How about it?

  19. Oh my gosh, this is fantastic news! Chris, you and your fellow searchers did an amazing thing and so glad you did and kept at it. Your story is well written and felt as if I was along with you. Digging up the pieces of Mr. Fenn’s wrecked jet brought me to tears. I can’t imagine what he is feeling right now but maybe holding a piece of a period of his life might bring him comfort. How life works and comes back around and you see it for the first time.

  20. I really enjoyed reading this story. You gave us so many details from the beginning of an idea, through the researching and planning down to the actual trip, I kinda felt like I was there. I can just imagine how exciting all of this was. And to actually accomplish your quest, finding that wreckage in that jungle…..wow. Every bit as exciting if not more so as trying to find a bronze box in the Rockies. I’m still smiling thinking of your story.

    • Thank you. I tried to tell the whole story from my perspective. At times, I felt more like an observer than a participant. It was surreal. I wouldn’t know how to begin to calculate the odds of things working out the way they did.

  21. Forrest, you must be thrilled!

    In the photo titled CLOSED” “OPEN” POSITION
    Is this piece of Litter 81 part of your escape canopy?

    • That piece is still unidentified. There were no serial numbers on it. That photo has made the rounds with crew chiefs from the era. It seems familiar to them, but nothing definitive. Most likely it was part of a pylon or attached to a pylon. One crew chief told me:
      “War planes were in fact better known as ‘weapons platforms.’ Meaning you could find any array of items hung on a plane with some being anti-missile systems to empty canisters which acted as luggage compartments.”

  22. Isn’t it amazing what one can find, if only given a few directions from Forrest. That 2 hour ascent up a cliff-face – 1300′ was something else. Not sure I could do that, but thankful that they did, and were able to return something precious to Forrest. WOW is right. JDA

  23. Fantastic! A wedding!

    It’s why it is in my opinion The Chase should always continue for moments like these. Indulgence has many definitions. Happy no tigers or mines were encountered and everyone was safe.

  24. What a wonderful story and find for FF. Man that had to emotionally blow his mind from such a traumatic experience. OORAH! HOOAH!

    Wow! As a US ARMY INFANTRY VIETNAM VETERAN this is stunning.
    Thanks, Dal
    Shaun

  25. Small clues on the ground ? Love that name Digby.. lol always looking deeper into the dark corners of human memory for somthing forgotten. A clue. Jk

  26. Holy Smokes!

    Now THAT is detailed dedication to finding something. I’m betting on Chris to find Indulgence! Have you ever been BOTG Chris?

    • I’ve never been BOTG. In my view, if you solve the poem it should only take one trip to find the treasure. However, I agree with the idea that all theories are equally good or bad until you are holding the chest.

  27. I didn’t realize until later when I was on the ground that I was no longer wearing my helmet. The wind blast must have jerked it off during the ejection process, but I was flying only about 180 knots at the time and I remember fastening my chin strap and lowering my visor. I could really used the helmet when the helicopter started pulling me up through the trees. That’s one of my great mysteries related to that incident. f

    • Forrest Fenn – The Running Man carving on your former Aspen tree had his helmet on. That’s the way it should have gone down. So miraculous in every way that you are still here with us. And I am so thankful that you are.

      Fondly,

      Lisa Cesari

      • Chris, thank you so much for sharing this story and pictures with us and for doing this to start with. What a blessing you are for Forrest and what an adventure.

    • Perhaps you lost your helmet instead of your head. The helmet may have served its purpose and you didn’t feel a thing? I really enjoyed this story. Thank you.

    • Maybe you removed it yourself once you got your feet on the ground. I’m sure your thought processes were a bit malfunctioning at that time.

      Amazing story – I can not fathom what you felt when you received that call or when you held that small piece of yester-year in your hand. For once, unlike the arrowheads you have picked up all your life – YOU were the man the story is about.

      • Perhaps someday, someone many,many years from now will hold your helmet in their hands and wonder about the man that wore it.

        If I were to hold it tomorrow, I wouldn’t have to wonder – I would know!

        • wwwamericana – Maybe a Vietnamese hunter from the village nearby to where Forrest’s F-100 plane went down is wearing that helmet to protect his head, while driving his motorcycle. That would be the very definition of this positive Karma coming full circle, would it not?

          Big Smile.

    • What an absolutely amazing find. That is awesome that they were able to locate it after all these years. One can hope that the chest will be located before long as well.

    • This is incredible! Thanks for sharing this inspiring story. I am so grateful to have learned so much wonderful history recently, I can’t wait to share these stories with my daughters when they are grow up. I’m certain it will bring a smile to their faces.

      Thank you for your bravery and service Mr. Fenn, and the same goes to all those who’s names are lost or forever buried under topsoil. And to those who seek adventure and desire to learn about and preserve our history. This sure makes me appreciate the sacrifices and bravery of those who came before us.

      Prospector

    • Forrest and Dal – While looking for jonsey1’s contest winning drawing of Forrest with BIP, I happened upon this thread involving her question posted to Dal about Forrest’s Minox camera. And Dal’s answer, involving Forrest’s harrowing Penetrator ride through the Laotian jungle, dangling from the Low Jolly Green Giant helicopter, while having his picture taken by the High Jolly Green Giant helicopter:

      https://dalneitzel.com/2016/11/20/odds-n-ends-about-fenns-treasure-hunt-21/#comment-166363

      Just WOW.

  28. Best scrapbook ever. You all put your lives in danger to give some closure to a true Brother. He has given so much for his Country. Thank you all for sharing this beautiful story. It brought much emotion to know that Major Fenn and his beautiful F-100 are united again. Thank you, Paulette

    • There is risk involved when you are dealing with such remote areas in Laos. However, my team always put safety first and I made sure they knew that I wouldn’t never be disappointed if they told me something was too dangerous.

  29. This is absolutely amazing! I can’t believe that you found the wreck , Chris and team!. Job well done!
    This must be a little surreal for Forrest , to see parts of his plane and seeing the location again. It is truly a beautiful place and even more so since Forrest was able to walk away. What a wonderful find.
    Well done indeed!

  30. Wow!

    Now that is an amazing story with beautiful and heartfelt results too! Chris, you have accomplished something I have only fantasized and wanted to do for Major Fenn, well done sir!
    Wow, just wow! God Bless you!
    tt

  31. Wow!! I loved reading it! I would love to see this made into a documentary on television. I would love to watch every step of the way up until discovery!! Thanks to all involved that made this happen!!

    TimM

  32. One of the most exciting things involved in this chase. A truly amazing story.
    Congrats to Chris, Digby, Tai, Su, Noob, and Don.
    And a thanks to the naiban for his permission and the supply of the hunters.

  33. Outstanding! Well done! Congratulations to all involved! I’m sure thinking Forrest is touching those treasures and rehashing old memories. Congratulations Forrest, I for one and one for all Major!

    I think we all NEEDED this feel-good story. I know I did. Forrest, did Chris just say it looked like you were back in the saddle again holding those reins. Well Bless Bess.

    Teamwork. Interesting concept. Chris probably couldn’t have done given the timing and elements along with countless other variables. His odds of retrieving something very dear to forrest greatly improved once he got his team together.

    All I can say is thank you Chris for your determination and thank you to every member of your team! Well done.

    ByGeorge

    • Maybe we need to stop and get some gas? What else might someone else stop there for? Maybe to get a map? Orrr Orrr maybe get some help with DIRECTIONS? Ya think?

      It takes teamwork and the desire/determination to get the job done.

      Battles are not won by one person alone. But one person alone can make a difference.

      What’s the old saying…something about 3 strikes and You’re out? Nope! Three strikes and You’re not out! There’s always one more thing you can do. Hallelujah!

      Oh the fun of double entendres, eh Forrest?

      I think, either a team is getting close or teamwork is needed. Dare I say it but I think we better find the old guy’s joystick for him before he gets too petered out?

      I’ve done it tired and now I’m petered out?

      Marvel Gazing is all part of the Chase…IMO.
      And if ya don’t believe me then you better call your power company(Julie) and have it verified, Hallelujah!!!

      It’s called teamwork. Why do ya think you have a wingman?

      I’ll bet ya that back in Forrest’s day some of the mighty warriors(sometimes referred to as Savages) were multitasking! Some could predict the weather simply by talking to a mighty Plumb Tree! Yup, honest engine! And after the Savage warrior had spoketh the mighty Plumb Tree did sayeth…what do ya think you are, a weather-man now?

      Now that’s TEAMWORK!!

      ByGeorge

  34. It would be like magic if they got with that guy Josh, who has the mini-series on Discovery, to go with them on a follow-up expedition. Kinda like finding a Forrest Unicorn…

  35. Timeless artifacts recovered with precision!!
    Shrapnel in the jungle, brought home through a story,
    Much like finding a needle in a haystack!!!
    Certainly to admired by many, and a story to be treasured by aLL.

  36. Everyone has said the only word to say. AMAZING!

    This is UNBELIEVABLY AMAZING! A real joy to read.

    Now to give Mr Fenn his Bracelet back!

    • James, in Forrest’s ‘tipped in’ comment above regarding losing his helmet during ejection… his 42nd word is “time”.
      I agree, it’s time for someone to find the 42 lb chest of gold and return Forrest’s bracelet. What a rewarding time for the winner to spend time with Forrest and together celebrate.

      The 66th word is “up”. (66 = FF alphanumerically)
      “Time up”.
      (Just having fun. I realize this probably is not a clue).

  37. If you’d like to watch an interview shot by the Air Force Association in which Forrest talks about the experience of being shot out of the sky and being stranded in the Laotian jungle until he was rescued…look at the top of this (or any other) page…on the right hand side..

    Air Force Interview which is under Forrest Speaks…
    or click on the link below.
    The Air Force interview is broken into four parts. He talks about being shot down in Part Three and the rescue in Part Four
    http://lummifilm.com/afa/

  38. Chris LaFrieda, do you believe in Deja Vu? Its a feeling of having already experienced the present situation. I had related earlier about the Longitude of the rescue site where the Jolly Green snatched Forrest from a possible fate like the one he experienced with the surgery and elimination of his Cancer in 1988, sometimes in life, when we dodge an almost inevitable death we are reminded of that occurrence with Deja Vu, did you get the exact Google Earth co ordinates, because I have a theory that somehow the last time Forrest and his entire family or perhaps certain members may have been at the special place that reminds him of his 9 lives, this may sound strange but the page number in Too Far To Walk is 106 that shows him being hoisted out of the jungle, according to the conversion I followed from your earlier rescue log you found, that is the exact longitude 106 degrees, plus 3141 and that is the home address in Temple, TX on North Main St, but backward did you get the exact longitude and latitude of the karst, or the gorge? A 3 mile distance from the point of rescue would be an uncanny number in my theory, it could lead you or me to the TC if correct? West direction from the bailout in the eastern hemisphere move you to a number that might surprise this audience.

    Perhaps it is only a coincidence but who else is closer? Forrest is posting a lot of scrapbooks and Juan is popular now.

    TT

    • Very interesting Tom Terrific. You and Chris should team up and finally solve this thing.

      I hope when the chest is found, Forrest has left a large can of Jolly Green Giant Peas (go in peace) at the location to honor the Helicopter and crew that took him up in peace.

      • 42, thanks for the compliment, Chris is a genius and most of them like to work alone in my experience, I on the other hand am more like the Kids that might have an advantage according to ff in the hunt for red October…..I digress, I mean hunt for Indulgence, if I am correct about any part of my theory it is the 106 degree longitude aka a longitude is a north main in Navagation and TIME is how we dissect it to show exact locations, think of this as a Clancy or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Grisham novel, since the most intriguing thing about solving mysteries is to use an actual outcome from the past, if I were an author, this story would be a documentary because the truth in life is stranger than fiction…9 lives has Forrest and 9 clues, 9 is the perfection of numbers and how many points on the compass? There are numbers in the poem and it covers all we need to find the TC.

        I am open to working with other searchers and I have even charged people for guiding in the Rockies in the past, but I am an an admitted amateur, Chris would be the one most wanted to be stranded with since he is not just clever, and resourceful he is brilliant!

        TT

  39. According to my good buddy “Google,” The US lost 10,000 aircraft, helicopters, and UAV’s (I don’t know what a UAV is) in Vietnam. Chris was able to find one specific plane 50 years later after it had been mostly picked apart and hauled off for other use. One plane out of 10,000…..50 years later.

    • Copper
      UAV = Drone
      They used them only for reconnaissance in Vietnam…some were remotely piloted but most were autonomous…preprogrammed and flown by computers…

      • Chris,
        Is there any way I can contact you via email. .then phone.

        What you did for a Vietnam war hero, a complete stranger is what life is all about. I’m a firm believer in the old “pay-it-forward” concept. What you did is amazing and thats an understatement!!

        If you could have Dal shoot me your email address or just post it then I’ll shoot over some things my botg turned up. I’d really like you to please look at what I’ve got and tell me what you think.

        Again just give me 15 minutes of your time. That’s all I ask. Don’t do it for me. Do it for the Chase.

        Thank you,

        ByGeorge

  40. It took more than 50 years before the remnants of Fenn’s plane crash were found by an inspiration from a single genius and an adventurer with the help of 5 other brave souls based only on Fenn’s memory.
    I think it will take 10 years for the TC to be found by a single ordinary person who was able to read the poem simple, figure out the correct solve, and finally make a BOTG and retrieve it one Summer day in 2020.
    — MajinKing

  41. Forrest has given ALL of us so very much by enriching our very existence,,,this flatlander is eternally grateful. This whole story brought tears to my eyes just knowing that one of us…Chris and his team….was able to return something so special back to Forrest that’s so very dear to his heart. I hope he is elated “one hundred” times more than any of us would be finding the treasure chest.

  42. Finding Piece for Forrest.

    As They Went Together in There

    And with a Mission Bold

    We Can Rejoice in a Hidden Clearing

    And for Seekers Brave, Who Secrets Unfold.

    Joy to All of Good Will!

  43. Reminds me of my last botg, it was summer in my camouflage hat.I wasn’t able to find the t.c. though.
    Thinking next time I’m going to bring myself a lucky helmet with stars on it and make magic happen.

  44. Just ASTOUNDING!
    Such a wonderful adventure and find! Congratulations, Chris! I’m sure you made Mr. Fenn feel complete!
    Such a life changing event!
    Bravo…!
    ¥Peace¥

  45. This is just a wonderful story and gift for Forrest,
    What an adventure.
    So many people who have read his memoir are so focused on cracking the poem and trying to pinpoint his treasure location, while you wanted to give something back.
    That sir is astounding.
    I know what to do.

  46. Chris, you are a talented individual. By finding this you authenticate the chase even more so, awesome! Love Forrest gets to live back in time with a tangible artifact he created.

    So Chris that being said, a guy like you needs unusual challenges.
    Seems like there is a missing Plymouth out there still….

    • The details in TTOTC about the crash were surprisingly accurate: “I was watching when it hit half way up 1,000-foot-high stone bluff.” Those cliffs are about 300 meters high (or 984 feet).

      Unfortunately, they don’t keep track of old Plymouths as well as they do for F-100s.

    • Jared,
      Sounds about right..could easily have something to do with a Chevy as well. I’d say both. The Plymouth Duster was a dependable car! IMO

      ByGeorge

  47. Hey Bur;

    I was just wondering – You have mentioned your search area a number of times. I know that you have not yet found the blaze, but I was curious – Have you had to climb cliffs like the ones in this story, in order to reach your Heavy Loads and Water High? – Just curious – So far, I have not had to climb that high, but I have not found it either – JDA

  48. Wow, how cool is this? This is a very impressive article. I could almost feel the nervous excitement that Chris and Forrest felt. Job well done!

    • Digby is an expert on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He can tell you many interesting stories from the Vietnamese side, as well as the American side. He was a joy to work with and I highly recommend him.

      • Chris, thanks a million for sharing your excellent, successful endeavor with the TTOTC community.

        Your story is hugely enjoyable! I applaud your unselfish efforts to bless an American Vietnam pilot.

        Note – my son and his buddies came home from Indochina and Java with stories that made my heart quit beating for more than a few moments.

        • And may I add a hearty Bravo Zulu Chris for a job VERY well done! And if you and your wonderful team do decide to go out and FIND the Minox, good luck on that Endeavour.

          Pinatubocharlie

  49. Chris and team,
    Wow! Thankyou for all you have done to reunite Forrest and his special F-100 jet together again.
    Amazing read of determination, bravery and teamwork It looks like you also found the original blaze.
    Well done.

  50. Wow I would of loved to been there searching with them how exciting especially for forrest by far this story is the best I’d love to know these searchers great job y’all

  51. Jdiggins, Diggin Gypsy…
    I have a serious question for the 2 of you. What do you see when you read this honorable story? That’s what WE need to ask ourselves if ya ask me. What did Forrest just post for us all to see?

    IMO–Unselfish Teamwork. Teamwork that was done for the betterment of one man and one community. I for one needed a shot in the arm and some confirmation bias.

    A week or so ago I wrote Forrest. I told him I needed help and I specifically mentioned the 2 of you. After watching a movie the other night, it hit me hard. Forrest has a story he’s telling us and needs to be told, I believe.

    Forrest said something along the lines of “7 is the perfect number”. Well I believe this Chase could easily end sooner than later if we worked as a team FOR Forrest.

    Diggin Gypsy, I would love to share my hard work with you. You said above that you would have loved to have been there searching with them guys. Why? Because you know how much it means to Forrest.

    Jdiggins, You say it brought you to tears and you are so happy for your Forrests pleasure. ME TOO! Jdiggins, I believe that if I shared with the 2 of you what I have that both of you could walk within steps of where we need to be. Actually, I have 6 people in mind, and with what I have, I would honestly say 3 or more would be able to solve it literally within days, if not hours.

    What do you say we throw together an end of season bash? For the next 2-3 weeks we put our heads together and do this for Major Forrest Bubba-Burke Fenn and Miss Peggy.

    Diggin Gypsy, when you see what I got, you will smile. Jdiggins you got a grip on the poem so with my help I believe WE can make a difference.

    All I ask is we work together for Forrest. Ladies, there’s a story that needs to be told. I need some help. Truth be told, about 1/2 way up the mountain there’s a gorge with a tree shaped like a “Y” and you ladies could easily contribute! I have saved up just a small amount of cordage during my lifetime. My cordage is rubber bands. I think that when we got to this point in the hike that WE could grab the rubber cordage, tie the ends to either side of the top part of the “Y”(like a slingshot), strap Diggin Gypsy in, stretch it back as far as WE can, and then let ‘er go! If we’re lucky, WE can send her happy ass a-blazin across the gorge to retrieve the chest! YEAH BABY!!! How’s that for THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX?! And here’s the kicker…if DG screws up the landing and becomes incapacitated…WE always have Jdiggins as a BACKUP!!! DUH??? WE GOT THIS LADIES!!! (wink, wink).

    If you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem…
    Zap, 5×5….A,B,C’s…that’s just a start but you’re all over it!

    If I gave my info to Zap, Ken, JDA, Jdiggins, Diggin Gypsy, Iron Will, Alsetenash, or Dal…Ya’ll would be able to figure it out NOW! I believe I have at least 95% of it solved if not more.

    I would like to get a nice little team together and get together for a botg and see if we can’t give Forrest another treasure of his. The bracelet. How cool would it be to get a team together, go retrieve it, and sit at Forrest’s Banquet Table and listen his golden memories and treasured past? I wanna be there! And you know he would have to feed us all so it’s going to have to be a BIG TABLE!

    Teamwork…let’s give it a try. Let’s do this for Forrest. All I’m asking is that you look at what I have and I’ll share with you my take of the poem. I believe it’s not needed but it would be nice to know the completeness of the complexity of the poem.

    It’s my belief we can end this as a team. It’s my belief I am going to try my best. It’s my belief. Please let me know if you would like to help. I would love to help.

    ByGeorge

      • Clint,
        Hey, thanks for the reply. I was beginning to think they were using invisible ink in here.

        Clint, I’m not quite sure how to respond to your nearsightedness. Not once did I say I know where indulgence is. Quite the contrary Clint. If you were to read my comment again you would “possibly” see that I was suggesting, get this Clint, (Drum-Roll)…
        TEAMWORK.

        Now I’m going to shorten my posts up just for you buddy. But please follow along. You’re the only one whom can see me ink matey!

        I’ll be back soon. I’m watching “Finding Nemo” and every time they sing that old Scottish song it brings me to tears.

        ByGeorge

        • Hi ByGeorge
          What is your search state if you don’t mind me
          asking,mine is Montana.I was already to go
          had the plane booked and then it stormed,
          lots of snow.Now I will have all winter to get
          everything just right for next June/July. I know
          what the (I wish I would have thought of that )is
          now.Your not going to believe what it is.
          Clint

  52. Forrest, I love the beginning of this scrapbook where you wish Chris luck… It is amazing he was able to find your spot in your story of being shot down. I’m just curious why you though it would be so hard to find especially with all the new technology these days???? But in the end he did?

  53. Thanks Chris, Digby, Kai, dal, Mr. Fenn and the rest,
    Amazing story, research and recovery. I thoroughly enjoyed your adventure.

  54. Chris just updated the story by adding links to three fascinating videos from the search…
    The links are at the end of the story under the last photo…

    • Thanks Dal & Chris,

      I’m still awestruck at the journey, it’s success, and the fact Forrest survived.

      Really enjoyed the additional video footage!

    • Jenny – Thank you for posting that Litter 81 Q/A with Forrest on your site! And thank you for sharing everything you have so far about Forrest Fenn’s treasure hunt over on your Facebook group page. I have enjoyed all these excellent forums. And all your other Facebook group page posts about armchair treasure hunts.

      I see so many positive results, inspired by the efforts of Forrest Fenn here on The Chase. And so many of those results were facilitated by both you and Dal.

      Awesome.

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