June - July 1966-page 3-4-5
"Rescues Under Fire - Crews Save Downed Fliers”
The helicopters and types of operation may be different, but the objective of the crews manning the UH-2's and HH-43's is the same - save lives! Nowhere is this dedication and singleness of purpose more apparent than in Southeast Asia where rescues are often carried out with enemy fire adding to the hazards already presented by weather, terrain or similar natural obstacles. The following accounts, involving rescues in the Gulf of Tonkin and a jungle-covered valley in South Vietnam, are excellent examples of the devotion to duty shown by the chopper rescue teams.
The first operation began after a USAF F-4C Phantom jet was hit by ground fire and the occupants ejected over the Gulf. Splashing down about two miles from shore, the two men scrambled into their life rafts and waited for help while other Phantoms flew protective cover overhead. Soon afterward, an HU-16, twin-engine Albatross piloted by Capt David Westenbarger from the 3rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group at Tan Son Nhut AB, RNV, appeared and landed in the choppy waters to pick up the survivors. The two Navy Skyraiders which accompanied the Albatross to the rescue area took over the protective patrol from the circling Phantoms. As HU-16 crewmen kept watchful eyes on the shore, a pararescueman dived into the water to tow one of the survivors to the plane. Suddenly a North Vietnamese battery on the beach exploded into action. Fire from automatic weapons streaked toward the Albatross, mortar shells splashed nearby, and armed sampans began heading toward the stationary aircraft. HU-16 crewmen began returning fire and the Navy fighters streaked across the beach in strafing runs in an attempt to silence the entrenched batteries. Soon after the firing started, however, a mortar shell made a direct hit on the Albatross, killed two of the crew and set the plane afire. Captain Westenbarger and the other three surviving members of his crew groped their way through the smoke and flames and abandoned the aircraft.
As the fighters continued to strafe the beach, two SH-3A helicopters from the USS Yorktown appeared and, disregarding the fire from shore, plucked five of the survivors from the water. But - before the sixth could be recovered - fighter cover had to be temporarily withdrawn and the enemy fire became so intense it was impossible for the choppers to rescue the last man. Capt David S. Price, already wounded by the mortar burst which struck the Albatross, was left alone in his tiny raft which was rapidly drifting toward shore.
A few minutes later a UH-2 SEASPRITE from the USS England, 80 miles away, arrived on the scene in answer to the May Day distress call which had been radioed earlier by the downed Phantom. With the UH-2 pilot, LCdr David J. McCracken, were Ens Robert H. Clark, Jr., copilot, and Herbert G. Davis, AECS, and Edward B. Campbell, ADJ1, crewmen. All are from HC-1's Det 5. Fighters also arrived and again began strafing the enemy shore batteries as the SEASPRITE crew prepared to rescue the man floating below. Despite the aircraft overhead, the sampans pressed forward and began firing at the chopper. Disregarding them, Commander McCracken maneuvered the UH-2 over the survivor and used the rotor wash to trap the wildly bobbing life raft. As Campbell sprayed the closing sampans with submachine gun fire, Chief Davis hoisted the survivor aboard and the SEASPRITE headed for safety.
HH-43 CREWMEN UNDER VC FIRE
The other mission involved two HH-43F crews, the perilous rescue of three wounded flyers from the advancing Viet Cong, and two courageous HUSKIE crewmen who braved continuous enemy fire to search for survivors and narrowly escaped death themselves. (add by Ragay : the mission took place on March 9 , 1966)
The mission, one of the most hazardous flown by the men of the 38th ARRSq, began when two HH-43F's from Det 7 took off from Da Nang AB to rescue the survivors from an AC-47 which had crashed in dense jungle at the bottom of a narrow valley 55 miles from the base. Manning the primary helicopter were Capt Donald J. Couture, RCC; Capt Harold A. Solberg, copilot; SSgt David L. Lancaster, helicopter mechanic; and A2c Albert W. Foster, III, pararescue specialist. Aboard the secondary chopper were 1stLt Arthur F. Machado, RCC; Capt John B. Kneen, CP; SSgt Curtis F. Yancy, HM; and SSgt David J. Wheeler, PS.
Enroute to the crash site the rescue helicopters were warned that the downed crew was under intense enemy fire at close range and that a rescue attempt would be extremely dangerous - if at all possible. Although the helos were unarmed, the crews decided to continue on and rely on A-1 aircraft in the vicinity to suppress enemy fire. After rendezvous with one of the A-1's above the clouds, the HUSKIES made individual IFR descents into the valley and then rejoined below the clouds. As they were preparing for their rescue dash, other A-1's were making strafing runs on the Viet Cong in the vicinity of the downed aircraft three miles away and 0-1 pilots were keeping up a continuous advisory on the desperate fight for survival that the AC-47 crewmen were making. Again the HUSKIE crews were warned that there was heavy VC fire in the area and that they would have to fly directly over enemy positions to reach the crash site. Adding to the hazard of the rescue attempt were the tall trees which pierced the jungle and reached as high as 100 feet from the valley floor. Shrugging off the danger, the men in the rescue choppers pressed forward toward the downed plane. Flying "on deck" at 95 knots, Captain Couture and Lieutenant Machado kept the hurtling choppers below the level of the tallest tree tops. As the two HH-43F's dodged and weaved their way through the trees, A-1's reported small arms fire all along their path; however, the combination of low altitude, speed, surprise and the tree cover kept them from being hit. As the helicopters neared the rescue site, the O-1's reported that the Viet Cong were less than 150 feet from the wrecked aircraft and moving in for another attack.
Arriving at the AC-47, the helicopter pilots executed a quick-stop maneuver which carried them to a small hill 75 feet away. For seconds, which seemed like hours, they hovered over the hill - but no survivors appeared. The chopper pilots moved closer to the plane, placed the nose wheels against the side of the hill, and hovered with the rear wheels off the ground. Suddenly three men ran from the wreckage toward the rescue chopper. Sergeant Lancaster and Airman Foster leaped to their assistance and helped the panting, blood-stained survivors into the helicopter. As they boarded the HUSKIE, both crewmen spotted Viet Cong in the jungle.
The first HUSKIE took off and the second, according to plan, moved into the spot to pick up the rest of the AC-47 crew. When none appeared, Sergeants Yancy and Wheeler jumped out and ran to the plane to investigate. Although A-1's were making repeated strafing runs as the VC advanced, both crewmen were under constant fire during their dash to the downed aircraft. As the enemy hammered at the wreckage with machine gun and small arms fire, the sergeants searched the craft from cockpit to tail. They found two crewmen who had been killed during one of the attacks -but there was no one else in the plane!
Meanwhile, the rescuemen in the first helicopter were told by the AC-47 crewmen that there were no other survivors. The word was immediately passed to Lieutenant Machado, and he alerted Yancy and Wheeler by going into a high hover and then returning to the landing spot. Seconds later the two airescuemen appeared but were immediately pinned down outside the plane by intense enemy fire. The sergeants answered with their M-16's, firing more than 40 rounds as an A-1 swept over the area in a close strafing run which momentarily scattered the VC. During the confusion, Yancy and Wheeler broke cover and desperately ran for the helicopter 30 feet away. Machine gun bursts tore up the ground between them as they covered the distance; however, another A-1 again swooped down and suppressed the VC fire as both men -miraculously unscathed - scrambled into the HUSKIE. Lieutenant Machado immediately lifted the chopper into the cloud cover.
The HUSKIES had arrived just in time.... It was learned later that all six crewmembers of the AC-47 survived the crash, but two had been killed by ground fire and the third was presumed to have been killed when he was caught outside the plane by the fourth VC attack. The VC had almost reached the wreckage several times but were driven off by A-1 strafing runs and fire from the AC-47 crewmen. Two of those rescued were seriously wounded and the other was in critical condition due to a severed artery and loss of blood. Just before their rescue, the survivors were told by a circling 0-1 that the helos were on their way but that the Viet Cong were also advancing and, by this time, were less than 100 feet away. The downed airmen were advised to carry their weapons during the run to the choppers as it was debatable whether the helicopters or VC would arrive first.
(add by Ragay – the following webpage has a reported written from the point of view of the AC-47 Gunship crew. The mission took place on March 9 , 1966 - the call-sign of the AC-47 was "Spooky 70" and it belonged to the 4th ACS :
“Valor In Two Dimensions” : http://www.ac-119gunships.com/ac47/gunshipac47.htm
(add by Ragay : the Spooky 70 rescue mission was also reported in “PJs in Vietnam” by SMSgt Robert L. LaPointe , pages 194-197)
VETERAN PILOT'S MOST MEMORABLE FLIGHT
Recognition for their services in Vietnam were recently given to two Airescuemen now attached to Det 7, EARRC, Seymour Johnson AFB, N. C. In a recent ceremony, Capt Floyd R. Lockhart and SSgt Millard L. Brickle, see photos above, were decorated by Col Lucian A. Dade, Jr., EARRC commander. The Captain flew 438 combat support missions in HH-43F HUSKIES from October, 1964, to October, 1965, while operating from Da Nang AB. During one of these missions he rescued 43 people. Sergeant Brickle, stationed at Da Nang from October, 1964, to August, 1965, flew a total of 77 combat support missions as an HH-43F crew chief.
The following account of Captain Lockhart's most unforgettable mission appeared in the "Seymour Scope," the base newspaper at Seymour Johnson. It is another excellent example of the hazards to which the men of the rescue choppers-Air Force and Navy-expose themselves while carrying out their humanitarian work.
Captain Lockhart had just returned to the base and was going off duty at the time the mission began:
"The copilot had already left, " said Captain Lockhart, "And the crew chief and I were stripping the chopper of its rescue and survival equipment. We got a call to scramble at 7:05 p.m. A Cessna O-1E Bird Dog had been forced down about 10 miles north of the base.
"There wasn't time to recall my copilot so I had to go without him.
"We arrived at the crash scene approximately 10 minutes after receiving the call. By this time the plane was engulfed in flames.
"I made my approach to the burning aircraft and let the pararescue man down by hoist. He was unable to get near the plane because of the intense heat, so he signaled for his firefighting equipment.
"As the gear was being lowered, I set up a 'hover' so that the wash from the chopper blades would force the flames away from him.
"At this point we were hit by ground fire and the chopper went out of control, hit the top of the trees, fell to the ground and rolled over about 50 feet from the burning O-1E.
"When the chopper quit moving, I got out to help the rest of the crew. The pararescue man had been hit by a piece of the rotor blade which had broken off when the chopper hit the trees.
"Another HH-43F which had been standing by picked us up and took us to the hospital at Da Nang. I was released after examination and the pararescue man was released the following day."
Captain Lockhart said had the copilot been in the aircraft, he at least would have received serious injury since the left side of the chopper was badly mangled.
(add by Ragay : The crashed aircraft was HH-43F 63-9713 call-sign “Rescue 95” during Mission DET5-PARC-313-2 June 1965)
For an official report , gained from the AFHRA files, titled "History of the Air Rescue Service , 1 January-31 December 1965", pages 187-188-189 - please click here.
Not all rescues in Southeast Asia are made under fire, of course, but HH-43 crews are still confronted with other hazards from natural causes during their missions. One of the most recent of these involved the after-midnight flight of a HUSKIE crew from Det 3, 38th ARRSq, Ubon AB, Thailand. Capt Israel Freedman, RCC; and Capt Jay M. Strayer, copilot, were in a precautionary orbit with the FSK when they saw an F-4C explode eight miles away while on final approach. Both occupants ejected. Captain Freedman returned to the ramp, discharged the fireman and FSK and picked up the crew chief, SSgt Benjamin Selph. Flying through darkness and heavy haze layers, the HUSKIE pilot used voice signals from the downed pilot as a guide and picked him up in a rice paddy. The copilot was picked up a few minutes later and was treated for back injuries by the other HH43 crewman, Alc Reedus L. Haraway, medical technician, as the chopper headed back to the base.
(add by Ragay : Mr Jim Burns comment on 22 June 2007 : " may possibly be the 17 May 1966 loss of a "Wolfpack" Phantom." ; "I used the book "Vietnam Air Losses" by Chris Hobson to look up the 'possible matches' ")
END OF ROTOR TIPS ARTICLE JUN-JULY66 - pages 3-4-5
last update : 12/04/2017