Expeditions: My Search for Colonel Scharf

A TIME correspondent treks through the jungle 17 years after the Vietnam War in hopes of solving a mystery: What happened to a missing U.S. pilot?

The hill tribesman stopped abruptly on the mountainside trail and pointed down the steep slope to a thicket of bamboo and dense underbrush. In a flash he used a foot-long machete to clear a 20-yard path down which I staggered to a tiny clearing. There lay the remnants of what used to be one of America's most feared weapons in its war with Vietnam: a 15-ton F-4C Phantom fighter reduced by explosion, fire and subsequent scavenging to a few chunks of twisted metal. In 1990 a joint U.S.-Vietnamese investigating team confirmed from the serial numbers on the plane that this was...

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