W2 FREDERICK LEWIS CRISTMAN
Unit: 48th Aviation Company,11th Aviation Group
Home City of Record: Salisbury NC
Date of Loss: 19 March 1971
Country of Loss: Laos
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
SYNOPSIS: Lam Son 719 was a large-scale offensive against
enemy communications lines which was conducted in that part of
Laos adjacent to the two northern provinces of South
The South Vietnamese would provide and command ground
forces, while U.S. forces would furnish airlift and supporting
Phase I, renamed Operation Dewey Canyon II, involved
an armored attack by the U.S. from Vandegrift base camp toward
Khe Sanh, while the ARVN moved into position for the attack
across the Laotian border.
Phase II began with an ARVN helicopter assault and
armored brigade thrust along Route 9 into Laos. ARVN ground
troops were transported by American helicopters, while U.S. Air
Force provided cover strikes around the landing zones.
During one of these maneuvers, CW2 Frederick L.
Cristman was flying a UH1C helicopter (serial #65-9489) with a
crew of three – SP4 Paul A. Langenour, door gunner, WO1 Jon M.
Sparks, co-pilot, and SP5 Ricardo M. Garcia, crew chief –
covering a downed U.S. helicopter during a rescue effort.
Cristman’s aircraft flew as the trail ship in a flight of two
UH1s on the armed escort mission.
The landing zone (LZ) was under fire, and the pilot of
the downed craft was a buddy of Fred’s. He worked the area with
his minigun while another helicopter successfully extracted the
Cristman and his crew continued to work the hot LZ
while other helicopters came in. His gunship was hit by enemy
gunfire. Cristman radioed in to the flight leader that his
transmission oil pressure caution light was on, and that he was
making an emergency landing on the LZ. This was verified by the
lead aircraft, who made several passes over the downed
Cristman’s aircraft crashed into the ARVN perimeter, and was
hit on the roof by a mortar round just as the crew jumped out.
Cristman, his copilot and the crew chief were thrown to the
ground, while the door gunner, SP4 Langenour, was able to exit
the aircraft and join a nearby ARVN unit which returned to a
U.S. military controlled area. The others remained with the
chopper, although this was not immediately apparent from the
The flight leader’s aircraft was also battle-damaged,
and he had to leave the area. Another helicopter arrived, and
although enemy ground fire was received, made it into the
landing zone. Intense enemy fire necessitated a hasty
departure, and only two Vietnamese troops were picked up.
During the initial rescue attempt by
the rescue helicopter, no American crewmen were seen on the
downed aircraft, and no radio contact was
SP Langenour later stated that after landing, the
aircraft received numerous rounds of mortar fire and he
departed the area. He last saw all the other crew members
alive. Due to enemy activity in the area, no ground search of
the site was conducted.
Proof of the deaths of Cristman, Sparks and Garcia was
never found. No remains came home; none was released from
prison camp. They were not blown up, nor did they sink to the
bottom of the ocean. Someone knows what happened to them.
Were it not for thousands of reports relating to
Americans still held captive in Southeast Asia today, the
families of the UH1C helicopter crew might be able to believe
their men died with their aircraft. But until proof exists that
they died, or they are brought home alive, they will wonder and
How long must WE wait to bring our men home?