Of Ego’s and Typhoon Flying by Jim Masencup

In the Unit History for October 1970 in the second paragraph it is written “….. and several aircraft were requested to fly rescue missions …..” As Paul Harvey would say “And now for the rest of the story”.

I have the names of a few of the people involved in this story. Over time I have, I am ashamed to admit forgotten a few, so as not to offend anyone I will not mention any names. Those who were there will never forget the episode. “This Ain’t No Bull….!”

On or about 30 October 1970 II CORPS was struck by a typhoon. I having grown up in South Florida with the annual hurricane season was not so much impressed with the winds of this storm, of maybe 80 knots as I was of the amount of rain. I have never seen as much water falling from the sky for such a long period of time.

At around 3:00am on 31 October 1970 I was awakened by our Operations Officer. The good Captain needed volunteers to crew four aircraft and fly rescue for the people stranded by flooding in and around Ba Gi. The good Captain wanted me to go and he wanted to be my Peter Pilot, ……he needed the flight time. The mission didn’t bother me as much as his needing the flight time. I was reluctant, he was persuasive, something about me not being able to pick my missions in the future did the trick, I think. I told him to enlist the rest of the fools needed and I would meet him at the flight line before dawn if the weather broke enough to fly.

At first light we pulled pitch. None of us could hear the tower tell us that the winds were above Battalion maximum limits, ….. “ Sorry you are breaking up”.

Our mission, find them and save them. The finding them was the easy part, they were everywhere, on anything that was above water and in the water also. As for the saving part I remember thinking “they didn’t teach us how to fly this mission at TAC-X”.

Rescuing the people on the rooftop was the easiest. Not to say it was easy. In order of difficulty after the ones on top came the people held up at the water line by the rats. They couldn’t get to the peak because of the rats, the rats held the high ground for the most part. We are not talking a field mouse, we’re talking rats as big as a cat. I quickly realized the best approach to this problem was to use the rotor blades to knock the rats off and then go for the people. If we went for the people first the rats tried to get into the aircraft. After the water line came the people trapped under the eaves unable to get onto the roof. You had to try to get a skid low enough for them to get onto without hitting the roof with the blades.

More difficult than the rooftops were the people in the river. First of all you didn’t know who among them were alive so you had to go for all of them. The wind and the current made them all look alive, as if they were trying to stay afloat. The method we devised for this was to time our approach so as to have a skid in the water to catch the body when it reached our space in time. I have often given thanks I was not asked to write the syllabus to teach this maneuver considering the winds were at times upward of 50 knots, the current probably up to 20 knots in places and both were never from the same direction twice. A Fish Hawk would have been better qualified.

Once the person was on the skid it wasn’t over. We now had to get them into the aircraft. For this our Crew Chief and Door Gunner took turns holding each other’s ankles while the other one hung out the door on his belly and pulled the person in. It was a blessing the Vietnamese were small, however our Crew Chief still lost all his upper and lower front teeth that day when the Door Gunner’s grip slipped and he ended up with a mouthful of skid. He never let go of the person through it all.

The most fun, if you can call it that, was getting the people trapped in Ba Gi proper. The only place above water was the Y in the road at the center of town. The space was just large enough to fit the bird if you put the tail boom into the tail of the Y. On the left was a building with what was left of a tin roof flapping in the wind. On the right was a two story brick wall of a building. The approach was straight down, GIB’s clearing the tail,… a foot left,… a foot right. The good Captain was keeping me off the wall while I watched the tin try to flap into the rotor blades. To tell you how close it was I don’t remember the good Captain telling me I had more than six inches clearance.

On the last trip in I knew I hit the wall, I felt it. The good Captain said no, I had two inches. He forgot about the tie down tabs on the end of the blades. When we were on the ground and as they loaded the last old man from the opium den still with his pipe in mouth and hand I looked up at the wall and saw the mark where I hit.

When we shut down that afternoon for fuel and coffee at the 22nd ARVN Main CP we were unable to tie down. The tabs were gone,….not just gone but like they were never there,…. that clean,….no other damage.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Now for page two”.

At that time or for that mater at no time did our Maintenance Officer and I get along. It had something to do with his AC check ride if I remember. In bound to Lane that day we called operations to report that I had had a blade strike, which of course, with the exception of a bullet was pilot error. I did this knowing full well what to expect.

Well sure enough to my delight the whole gang was there when we hit the revetment, the Maintenance Officer being the leader of the pack looking for revenge. As the rotors wound down,…..the good Captain and I standing next to the Maintenance Officer,…..me with the tie down hook in hand,……..Maintenance Officer grinning with anticipation, the gang ascended the bird. After about five minutes of close inspection the gang announced to their leader that they could find no damage to the blades. After a quizzical look from the Maintenance Officer I told him he better have a look. After completing his look-see and finding nothing and as he started a tongue-lashing about wasting his time I handed him the tie down hook, told him to tie the blades down and the good Captain and I started up the hill for a drink. As we departed I said something over my shoulder to the effect “And you call yourself a Maintenance Officer”.

Wouldn’t you know it, the bastard didn’t have a sense of humor. He wrote me up for a blade strike. The good Captain must have intervened as it never showed up on my flight records. The Maintenance Officer would not become an AC as long as I was the IP.

Paul Harvey never had a page three as I remember but here is mine.

On 3 November 1970 the Senior Advisor of MACV Advisory Team 22 wrote our CO “On 31 November 1970, sixteen pilots and crewmembers of your command assisted in the emergency evacuation of over 800 military dependents and civilians from…….”.

On 4 January 1971 in General Orders number 89 issued by the 1st Aviation Brigade it was written “….., over 150 lives were saved and the mission was safely completed.”

Over the past thirty years I have come to forgive the Maintenance Officer for his lack of sense of humor and I hope he has forgiven me for mine. To me, that really just a lot of fun. What has really bothered me is what the Rear Echelon Mother F…..’s did with the rest of the other 650 people.

Copyright © 2001 by Jim Masencup, All Rights Reserved