Remains of Private Fisher discovered, 2008
In January 2008, following the successful recovery of other missing Australian soldiers in Vietnam, Unrecovered War Casualties – Army began investigating the case of the last missing Australian soldier from the Vietnam War, Private David Fisher.
Private David John Elkington Fisher was a young Australian who had volunteered for national service, and had been selected for the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR).
On 27 September 1969, he was a member of an SASR patrol in an area to the west of the Nui May Tao in Long Kanh province, Vietnam. After a number of contacts the patrol requested a 'hot extraction'. During this extraction Private Fisher fell into thick jungle from a rope that suspended him below the helicopter. Several air and ground searches over of the next week failed to find any trace of Private Fisher. He was officially listed as 'missing in action presumed dead'.
Unrecovered War Casualties – Army commenced a careful examination of all available Australian records and unit war diaries, and interviewed Australian veterans involved in the incident in which Fisher was lost. They also appealed to the Australian Vietnamese community for help.
Armed with the information gathered in Australia, the team travelled to Vietnam in March 2008 to find information from local sources. What followed was two weeks of interviews with former Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers.
In archived documents, Unrecovered War Casualties – Army discovered a small piece of information that had previously escaped attention. It was a reference to the discovery of a pool of water 'red in colour' that was just outside of the original designated search area. The find was considered significant enough at the time for a sample of the water to be given to the 1st Australian Field Hospital for analysis. No record of what happened to the sample was found.
Another key piece of information came from a member of the Australian Vietnamese community. He told investigators that in October of 1969 he and another soldier found the body of a 'dead American' (Fisher, like most SASR soldiers, wore US camouflage uniform) and had buried his body in a shallow grave beside the Suoi Sap. He was able to provide a detailed description of the location.
The missing piece in the Fisher puzzle was a more precise indication of where Private Fisher may have landed. Details of the direction and speed of the aircraft and the time of flight before the fall were calculated and applied to a map. It became apparent that earlier searches had concentrated on an area too close to the roping extraction point.
In August 2008, Unrecovered War Casualties – Army returned to Vietnam and began the careful examination of the area bordering the Suoi Sap from its confluence with the Song Ray to the newly plotted area of interest.
While examining a shallow pool of water a Vietnamese team member, close to the Suoi Sap, found a large piece of bone believed to be human. Also found was a piece of plastic from the inside of an Australian-issue collapsible water bladder used by the SASR in Vietnam.
The next day, after examining a photograph of the bone fragment an Australian forensic anthropologist was able to confirm that it was most likely the lower end of a human femur (thigh bone). This was supported by the director of the Military Forensic Institute in Hanoi.
After Vietnamese Army engineers conducted an unexploded ordnance search, work commenced to recover Private Fisher's remains before the return of the wet season. Following a week of careful excavation more remains were unearthed along with Private Fisher's dog tags.
Private David John Elkington Fisher was repatriated to Australia by the Army in October 2008.