Extracts from Chris Coulthard-Clark, "The RAAF in Vietnam", Allan and Unwin, Sydney, 1995 form the basis of this account. Copyright to this publication is held by the Commonwealth of Australia and the portions quoted herein are used under the principle of fair dealing. The author, Mr Chris Coulthard-Clark, was contacted 1 Apr 02 and has given his concurrence for the use of selected portions of his work to support this project and for this we are most appreciative)
On the night of 3 November, 1970, "A84-231 (radio call sign 'Magpie 91') failed to from a night Skyspot mission in support of ARVN forces in I CTZ. Missions of this type were, by this time, being flown only infrequently by Australian personnel.
The aircraft had taken off from Phan Rang at 7.00 p.m., crewed by Officer M.P.J. Herbert and Pilot Officer R.C. Carver, and made a transit northwards before reporting in to the USAF ground control 63 minutes later. The weather for this mission was unremarkable; over the target - a known enemy position in Quang Nam province, 65 kilometers southwest of Da Nang - it was the best it had been for some time with clouds which topped at about 6,500 feet (1,983 metres) and only thin cirrus cover above that. There were no thunderstorms in the area a nd very little turbulence above 10,000 feet (3,050 metres). The mission controller, Captain W . J. Hanig, instructed Herbert to adopt an altitude of 22,000 feet (6,710 metres) in order to place the Canberra well above the maximum range of enemy anti-aircraft artillery known to be present in the area. He then asked the RAAF airmen to prepare to deliver their six 750- pound bombs in a single salvo with instantaneous fusing. 1
The aircraft made a normal bombing run, dropping its ordnance at 8.22 p.m. before breaking left. The ground station then came on the air to give the crew a brief description of the target they had engaged, and to tell them that their performance had been excellent. Flying Officer Herbert acknowledged this message, before signing off from Hanig's control and switching tactical frequency in the usual manner for the return flight to Phan Rang. At this point the aircraft would probably have begun climbing to 27,500 feet (8,388 metres), which was the normal height for aircraft homebound from that region.
When Magpie 91 still had not returned to base by 10.15 p.m., the usual procedures for an overdue aircraft were initiated within 2 Squadron. A check of all possible diversion airfields was undertaken, and 45 minutes later the request was made for search-and-rescue units on routine stand- by to be activated. A report from the American radar facility at Udorn in Thailand, which had been tracking the Canberra as it maintained a steady course on a heading of 120 degrees magnetic, indicated that contact had been lost at 8.22 p.m. when the aircraft abruptly disappeared off screen- apparently just moments after Herbert's last message.
A search by American air units based at Da Nang began at 4.30 a.m. the next morning and was joined at 8.00 a.m. by 2 Squadron's seven remaining Canberras which abandoned normal missions for the next three days. The search was finally suspended after 67 sorties had been carried out involving nearly 200 hours of flying time; 38 of these sorties, totalling nearly 114 hours, had been flown by 2 Squadron aircraft and crews. Despite this effort, hampered by low cloud associated with bad weather and the double and triple canopy jungle which covered much of the search area, nothing was found which provided any clue to the fate of Herbert and Carver. Significantly, in view of later speculation regarding the cause of A84-231 's loss, none of the aircraft engaged in the search had encountered any enemy fire, even though much of the effort had been flown at only 500-1,000 (150-300 metres) feet above ground level. 2"