February-March 1965-page 13
HQ 2D AIR DIV TAN SON NHUT AF SAIGON VIETNAM (OI) -In probably the most dramatic on-base air crash rescue of the year, personnel of Det 4, PARC, teamed with other American and Vietnam Air Force personnel at nearby Bien Hoa Air Base to save the pilot of a crashed A-1H fighter-bomber from literally drowning in mud.
The Vietnamese student pilot was taking off from Bien Hoa on a training mission when his aircraft was caught by a strong crosswind and veered off the runway, crossed a stretch of soft turf and overturned in a shallow muddy ditch. The impact was so great that the canopy and much of the cockpit were completely buried in the ooze. In addition, the plane's fuel tanks were ruptured, spreading high octane gasoline over the surrounding area. Immediately, an HH-43B rescue helicopter piloted by Capt John A. Boyles and Capt Kenneth L. Spaur scrambled from the rescue alert pad and, seconds later, was over the crash site. The pilots made a skillful landing a few feet to the side of the crash site and deposited the airborne fire suppression kit manned by TSgts Charles T. Walther and Dominick Cocuzzi.
After spreading foam over the spilled field to reduce the danger of fire, the two rescue men made their way to the side of the cockpit. Working in armpit-deep mud, they clawed a tunnel down to the canopy and ascertained that the pilot was still alive and conscious. Sergeant Walther, a trained paramedic, managed to grasp the pilot's hand and take his pulse which seemed strong and relatively normal. Meanwhile, both men noticed that the crashed "Skyraider" was slowly sinking deeper into the mud. Realizing that the helpless pilot might readily drown before more help could arrive, they frantically worked with their bare hands to keep an airway open to him. As a last resort, they were prepared to chop their way through the side of the fuselage with the emergency access kit but hesitated for fear they might sever a live electric line and set off a disastrous fire.
Minutes later, a Vietnam Air Force crash fire truck and crew arrived at the scene and the Vietnamese firemen fell to work with shovels to maintain the vital flow of air to their trapped compatriot. Their best efforts were barely able to keep pace with the slow sinking of the wreck and the instability of the semi-fluid mud. The situation was saved by the arrival of a heavy American truck crane manned by a Vietnamese crew which succeeded in finding a way over the soft ground without bogging down. The crane crew hitched a cable to the front of the wreck and raised it a few feet. Sergeant Walther scrambled under the cockpit, cut the pilot's safety harness and carried him through the mud to the waiting helicopter. He was immediately evacuated to the U. S. Army Dispensary at Bien Hoa where a medical checkup showed that his injuries were superficial.
The skill of the two rescue men was instrumental in saving the young pilot's life, but without the recently arrived HH-43B to speed them to the scene and its special equipment to reduce the danger of fire, the pilot would probably have perished before effective help could reach him.
SWAMP ANGELS-Discussing dramatic rescue are, left to right, TSgt Charles T. Walther, TSgt Dominick Cocuzzi, Capt John A. Boyles and Capt Kenneth L. Spaur. (USAF photo)
last update : 09/04/2017