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Family Of American Released From Vietnam Says They Had Believed Him Dead With

August 15, 1986 GMT

Family Of American Released From Vietnam Says They Had Believed Him Dead With AM-Vietnam-Schwab

ATLANTA (AP) _ Relatives of an American who was freed from a Vietnamese prison after an attempt to smuggle out two Vietnamese women said Thursday they feared he had been killed by China Sea pirates.

Robert Schwab Jr. of Atlanta said his son called Thursday from Bangkok, Thailand, after a 16-month disappearance.

Robert Schwab III, 43, was taken to Thailand after being released by Vietnamese officials, said White House spokesman Larry Speakes.

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″It seemed like a dream. I had been so convinced I would never see him again,″ the elder Schwab said at his home in an affluent Atlanta neighborhood.

″We had a rather brief conversation,″ he said as his eyes filled with tears. ″He said ‘How are you?’ and I said ‘Great, but how are you?’ He said he was going to be perfectly OK.″

Another White House spokesman, Dan Howard, said Schwab left Vietnam without the two women. It was not known when he would return to the U.S.

The younger Schwab, called Robbie, also is the son of Mrs. Robert Davis of Atlanta.

The elder Schwab said Richard Childress, director of Asian affairs for the National Security Council, had telephoned Wednesday with the news that his son had been released.

Schwab and his sister, Nan Pendergrast, said he had sailed for Vietnam in an 18-foot boat from the Philippines on April 19, 1985, in an attempt to smuggle out a Vietnamese woman named Mai and another family member.

Investigators discovered that Schwab had left for Vietnam by himself, and the trail disappeared in the China Sea.

″It’s a 1,000-mile journey across the China Sea to Vietnam, and he’s a lousy sailor,″ Mrs. Pendergrast said. ″We checked and found there were no typhoons in that period, but the China Sea is full of pirates. We thought a lone man on a sailboat might be easy prey.″

Schwab became friends with the women’s family while living in the Southeast Asian nation during the Vietnam War and later working for the U.S. Embassy. There was no romantic involvement between the two, Schwab’s father said.

However, the younger Schwab’s friends identified the women he sought as his fiancee and a child he believe was his. The friends also identified the woman as Trai.

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″He had been one of the last Americans to be airlifted from the embassy when Saigon fell,″ Schwab said of his son. ″He had thought about taking the girl out then, but decided she should stay with her family. I think it had bothered him ever since, especially when refugees told him they knew the girl was very unhappy.″

The elder Schwab said his son had no contact with the Vietnamese family during his incarceration, and that Vietnamese police had questioned the girl about Schwab.

″I’m sure they thought he was a spy,″ the elder Schwab said. ″As to why he did such an outlandish thing, he hoped that such an open attempt to come to Vietnam, with the assumption he would be taken into custody, would lead the Vietnamese government to make a grand gesture.″

Ms. Pendergrast said her nephew had written her shortly before he disappeared and told her he was going hiking in the mountains and probably would be out of touch for several months.

But family members began to worry after three months passed with no word.

Schwab said he contacted friends at nearby Fort McPherson, who asked the commander of Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines to search for Schwab. Navy intelligence officers joined the search, along with a private investigator hired by Schwab’s mother, he said.