The Mystery Tunnel

In March of 1994, Lt/Col Jeannie Schiff participated in a field investigation and excavation at Lima Site 85 (JFA 94-4L).  During this investigation an east-west tunnel was discovered in a north-south narrow ridge line just north of the operations van.  Mr. Robert J. Destatte who also investigated the site in December of 1994 and July 1998 states "It was very low and narrow.  One had to crouch down to pass through it.  It was carved through solid rock.  I am nearly certain that it was not natural." 

Now the mystery begins.  The question was put forth by Mr. Destatte "Who dug it, when and why?" Mr. Destatte continues "It has caused some confusion.  I have often wondered whether it influenced the actions of the technicians at the site during the evening of 10 March and the early morning attack on 11 March.  I understand that the technicians were worried about the possibility of another mortar or artillery attack, like the one that struck their bunker on 10 March - but did not expect a ground attack.  If the tunnel was constructed prior to the fall of LS85, it would have offered the technicians complete safety from mortar or artillery bombardments.  Also, the ridge above the tunnel might have shielded a rescue helicopter trying to extract survivors from the narrow ledge outside the cliff-side entrance to the tunnel.  Thus, if Americans constructed the tunnel before 11 march 1968, its existence could help explain why some of the off-duty technicians chose to spend the night of 10 March near the tunnel in the area behind the operations center.  On the other hand, if the tunnel was constructed after LS85 fell, it is irrelevant to our efforts to understand why the technicians decided to spend the night of 10 March in the area behind the operations center.  None of the People's Army of Vietnam or Lao participants in the two battles at Phou Phi Thi (March 68 and Dec 68-Jan 69) that we have interviewed seem to have known about this tunnel.  We can't infer anything definitive from their lack of knowledge, however, because each of them had made only brief visits to the TACAN/TSQ site."

Survivors and installation crew members were queried about this tunnel.  The replies were...

Col Gerald Clayton, Commander of Site 85: "There was no tunnel under the site while we were there.  There was a trench that ran along the face of the cliff where some of the men sought shelter, but the bombing destroyed most of it."

John Daniel, Survivor: "I never saw a tunnel. It wasn't there prior to 11 March 1968.  If there was one, why didn't we know about it?"

Dick Grimes, TACAN installation crew: "I was super surprised any tunnel existed."

Keith Johnson, TSQ-81 installation crew: "I never knew anything about the tunnel."

Larry Bean, TSQ-81 installation crew: "I don't know who did it, or when, but it had to have been after we left.  Looks like hard digging."

Ronald Haden, operational testing crew: "I suppose it could have been there and the east entrance covered by heavy vegetation, therefore hidden.  I did not explore the west side of the cliff in that particular area.  Another thought is that it may have been a deep cave and the U.S. bombing opened up the west entrance.  There is a large amount of debris below the tunnel entrance on the west side."

So the mystery still remains - "Who dug it, when and why?"

The post attack photo below shows the entrance to the tunnel.  Mr. Destatte verifies that this is the location where he and Lt/Col Schiff made their discovery.  Click on picture to enlarge tunnel entrance.

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