I WAKE UP
WERE FLYING ALONG at about 400 feet AGL (above ground level) and having no problems. Our mission briefing had been routine; a re-supply mission to a ROK (Republic Of Korea) unit about half way between our home base, Lane Heliport, and QuiNhon. Pick up supplies at the Korean headquarters, go approx 15 kliks (kilometers),unload, and return to base. No friendly artillery fire to dodge, no reports of VC activity in or near the landing zone (LZ) where we were to drop off our supplies. No indication that this was to be anything other than routine. Our Huey was loaded with a few metal canisters of ammo, a couple of wooden crates of smoke and percussion grenades, as well as water and food containers. All for the Korean troops we were supporting.
The UH 1, Huey, has four crew members; The crew chief, who is responsible for he proper loading and security of the cargo as well as being an expert gunner on the left side of the aircraft; an additional door gunner on the other side; a co-pilot (new guy [newbie] in training) ; and myself as the aircraft commander in the front left seat. There was also a korean soldier on board as a passenger. He was handling the cargo and would remain at the LZ after we unloaded.
I was at the controls while the co-pilot was checking the map and making sure we were at the right location. I could see the LZ and the friendly troops. When our position was confirmed, I started a circular approach for landing while making an assessment of the area. As usual, the troops on the ground were expecting us and popped a smoke grenade to indicate where they wanted us to land. The smoke gave us the wind direction & velocity and I looked for obstacles in and near the LZ. We also studied approach and departure paths we would use. As noted in our briefing, there appeared to be no enemy threat as the troops on the ground were upright, moving around, wearing T-shirts, showing no concern of enemy activity. This LZ was about as safe and secure as any we could expect to find in Vietnam.
At about 200 feet AGL and on short crosswind to final, we heard a loud, grunching, banging sound and the aircraft immediately shuttered and shook. The crewchief yelled, SIR, WERE TAKING FIRE!!! All I could do was holler back, OK, and fought to control the aircraft. As the nose of the aircraft started to tuck down and turn to the right, I was stomping left pedal to try to stop it from spinning. I was also trying to keep the aircraft from sticking its nose into the ground. I screamed, HOLD ON, WERE GOING IN!!!!! The co-pilot started yelling into his radio microphone, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY but he didnt have time to give our position. I hoped everyone was strapped in tight. The aircraft was spinning to the right and I was trying to slow it down and keep the nose up. It made about a half to three quarter turn when hit the ground. The tail boom hit first, broke off, and the aircraft went over onto its left side. The main rotor was spinning when it hit the ground and splintered and shattered, throwing pieces of the blade all over. The left skid came up into the bottom of the aircraft, and the main transmission came forward twisting to the left, causing the middle of the aircraft to collapse in on its self. The armor plated seat I was in, was ripped from its mounts, and I felt dirt and grass being pushed into my mouth.
I Tryed yelling, GET OUT, GET OUT, but the sound was all muffled, and I couldnt seem to hear myself. I tryed looking to see if the crew was OK, but couldnt twist my neck around to see. All I could see was a small shaft of daylight coming through a broken out space where the left side of the instrument panel and windshield used to be. I smelled JP4 fuel and knew the fuel cells were ruptured. I felt warm fluids sliding across my face and into the side of my mouth. Strange, this doesnt seem like JP4, and was suddenly confused. Then I realized it wasnt JP4, it was blood! My blood! I tryed raising my right hand to wipe the blood away, but couldnt move it. I managed to bring my left hand up to my right shoulder and, though I couldnt see it, felt a jagged, bloody piece of heavy metal that had come through my arm and gouged deep into my right side. Well, what kind of mess is this? I must be upside down, but I see things outside the aircraft that seem to be upright? I tell myself Im just confused. Oh GOD, this hurts, I dont know if I can stand it. The pain eases. Wheres the crew? Are they OK? I look out through my small hole and see soldiers moving around. Good, the friendlys are here. I see the crew chief and korean soldier pulling the gunner across the ground. I see the newbie crawling away from the aircraft. Thank you Lord, Ive never had anyone killed in my aircraft, and I thank you for getting them out. I see a picture of my wife, son, and daughter. I want them to know Im OK cause the LORD is watching out for me. The pain lessens.
Now I sense, rather than actually hear, the crackling, crinkly sound of newspapers being crumpled up, and wonder how this could be. Confused again!! I think I feel heat on my back, where my nomex flight suit had been ripped and torn. OH NO, FIRE! No, this cant be. My minds just playing games with me. Its OK. Theyll get me out of here in a minute. I remembered how one of the other pilots had been pinned in a burning aircraft and he was pulled out with just an injury to his heel. No problem, Ill limp around for awhile. Just hope the flight surgeon wont ground me for very long.
This is strange. The small hole Im looking out seems a little hazy. You know, kinda like the heat of the highway shimmering in the desert. The guys arent moving around much any more. I still see them, but they look different, so calm, and seem to be just waiting. One reaches out to me, and I feel his hand gently touching my face. ALL PAIN IS GONE. Then I see his face. Im really confused now. Who is this? This isnt one of my crew, but I see the blue and red patch with the bulldog, helicopter and cobra (Bite &Strike) on his right pocket. All of the others out there are wearing the same patch. So many of them. Theyre all reaching for me, reaching through the fire that I know is surrounding me. I have the overwelming sensation of sliding forward out of the aircraft into the strong, comforting arms of my Comrades, my Brothers, who are there to help me.
I dont know them. Yes, theres one I know. Whats his name? I know him! The confusion is clearing. Sure, he was in the Rock Chapel, up on the hill, when we had the memorial service for that crew we lost last month. They had crashed also. Oh, Its HIS spare pair of boots that was being displayed beside the Chaplin who was speaking so softly............................
AND I WAKE UP: OVER AND OVER AND OVER......
An anonymous 129th crew member