Thank You Howard Hughes!
We were released for the day and after refueling at Kontum and taking off, I asked my wingman WO1 Jack Rodgers if he thought we should fly high over the Kontum pass or low level through the pass. We had been receiving reports all day of aircraft that were receiving small arms fire going into the pass but the winds were blowing high speeds at altitude. Jack agreed to go low level so low level we went.
As we rounded the last bend leaving the pass, flying over QL-14 I noticed on the right side a military convoy that was pinned to the side of the mountain and receiving fire from above. They were either ARVN or Korean troops, I couldn't tell which. As I pressed the mic button to tell Jack to nose it over our ship was hit by three baseballs, 51 Cal's, I call them baseballs because when they hit your aircraft it sounds like someone throwing a baseball from 10 feet. I noticed I had no movement from my flight controls. They were locked. I assumed a 51 hit the controls at the rotor head and that had jammed and locked us in a 60 knot descending attitude. At that same split second, as I realized that my controls were locked, my mind opened up and every word, ever sentence, every paragraph and every page I had studied in the aircraft emergency book flashed in front of me. It was like my mind reacted to the situation and started the fastest computer sorting through the material. To date it has been the only time this has ever happened. In the final outcome, there was not a thing we could do. I transmitted to Jack that I had no controls but on the bright side, we were going down slowly instead of fast; I told him that he should get out of the area and wait to see what happens.
I talked with my observer and we decided to lean in the same direction to see if the LOH would react to the weight shift. It did! I looked at what was in front of us for landing and noticed a Fire Support Base (FSB) near the highway. I asked Jack to radio them letting them know I was going to attempt a running landing to stop on QL-14 in front of the road that leads into their base. As we got on long final I noticed a vehicle leaving the FSB that I assumed was coming to pick us up. After a few seconds the NVA started mortaring the landing area and the base. It was like the NVA had heard Jack's transmission. I recall thinking of a keystone cop movie, the truck comes out, the explosions happen and then the truck turns around and goes back into the FSB. I guess I am a sick-minded person or I watched too much television growing up.
With the new situation, I told my observer the best chance would be leaning to the right, using the pedals to turn the aircraft, and to try to land in a area just off QL-14 about 300 meters. For security propose most of the main roads traveled by the military had been cut back about 500 meters on both sides. At that point, the growth was between one to three feet high. By leaning to the right and using pedals we were able to turn the aircraft enough to do almost 180 degrees. As we completed the turn we were about 50 feet off the ground. Jack, our wingman, was following us as close as he felt necessary for rescue. Jack mentioned afterwards he could see dust from enemy fire popping around us. I'm glad he didn't tell us while we trying to land. I was thinking of a nice running landing in the low vegetation.
Just before we touched down a large B-52 bomb crater appeared. Without any flight controls there was nothing we could do. Feeling I needed to do something to survive, I pulled as hard as I could on the stick and it broke loose like a wet noodle. The helicopter skids caught the top of the crater and we started to cartwheel. As we completed our first roll, that seemed to be in slow motion, I was thinking, "I'm still alive". Each time we rolled I thought the same thing "I'm still alive". After the third roll, the aircraft stopped up side down. I asked my observer if he was OK. "He stated he was fine", He then said; as he looked at me, something funny that I'll never forget. "Well, are you going to turn the damn engine off"? The engine was still running and what was left of the rotor system was spinning without any blades. I reached up which normally would be down and turned the switch to off. The engine quit, we unbuckled and stood up.
What was left of the aircraft was only waist high. Jack had landed about 25 meters away. I didn't think it was necessary to blow the aircraft by popping a WP grenade according to the SOP, we always worried if the NVA could recover any of the parts and ammunitions. We were very lucky none of the grenades went off. A LOH would normally carry; 10 fragment grenades, five white phosphorous (WP) grenades, five concussion grenades and a few smoke grenades, an M60 machine gun and personal weapons. I would think we had about 25% of the grenades on board. Besides, I thought, the Undertakers, our gunship platoon, will use it for target practice and blow it up anyway. I recovered my AR-15 Rifle and my observer recovered his M60 which I thought would have been thrown from the LOH. As we were running for Jacks aircraft I noticed dust popping up, they were shooting at us but from a long distance. We reached Jacks aircraft safely and he took off for Camp Holloway. Both my observer and I didn't receive any injuries. Great thing about the Hughes 500, which was the LOH we were flying, they built a birdcage frame that when the aircraft crashed; it could roll and offer protection for the crew.
Thank you Howard Hughes! -- Jim
Jim Stein <JimS@palecek.com>
USA - Wednesday, August 13, 2003 at 14:54:11 (PDT)