March 15, 2014

Missing plane triggers Vietnam memories

PLATTSBURGH — Theories abound about the whereabouts of the missing Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 jetliner, Flight MH370, as the search swings into the expanse of the Indian Ocean.

It’s easy to have an armchair hypothesis, but it’s a different matter for SUNY Plattsburgh President John Ettling, who had a bird’s-eye view of that region from his ejection seat in a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress during the Vietnam War.

“One thing that’s for sure, there is an awful lot of ocean,” said Ettling on a layover at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. 

He and his wife, Lisa Lewis, were en route to alumni reunions in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“The maps don’t give an adequate sense of how much ocean it is,” Ettling said. “I don’t have an explanation (for Flight MH370’s disappearance).”

From 1966 to 1971, he was an officer in the U.S. Air Force. It’s been more than 40 years since Capt. Ettling, a navigator/bombardier, logged more than 2,000 hours, half of that flying over Southeast Asia. 

“I’m familiar with the South China Sea and the areas between Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia,” he said. “I’m not familiar with that part of the Indian Ocean. I am familiar with the flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.”


He and his B-52 crew had an incident over the South China Sea between the Philippines Archipelago and Southeast Asia mainland.

“We were heading north to Okinawa,” Ettling said. “My crew and I had just completed a bombing run in South Vietnam and were flying back to where we were stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. We were at 37,000 to 39,000 feet over the South China Sea when the pilot said fire-warning lights had come on in the bomb bay on the instrument panel.”

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