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CPT Stephen E. James, Ret.  

Ronald Doughtie - John Paul Vann's Pilot

I met Ronald Doughtie in flight school; we were stick buddies with the same IP at Ft. Wolters, TX. During flight training at Ft. Rucker Southern Airways who had the contract to train my class instrument flying went on strike and what cursory training we got by Army IP's was more like survival skills in case of inadvertent IMC. In August 71 we met again in Seattle and flew to Vietnam together. We went to separate bases but met and talked in the spring of 72 when he had just started flying Vann. I met him and his wife again in April 72 on R&R.

When the crash occurred I was assigned to the accident investigation team and had the unpleasant task of going through his things and interviewing the people who spoke to him just before the flight. Ron did not want to go, but may not have spoken his mind to Vann. As I said Ron had not been adequately trained in Instrument flight (we got a Tactical Ticket only, not a Standard Instrument Rating) and the OH-58A helicopter did not have a complete instrument suite. This was not the first case of in-advertent IMC by a Classmate in an OH-58A resulting in a crash by an inexperienced pilot. Also, Vann often flew the helicopter himself and may have been flying then. No one will ever know for sure. Vann had made the radio calls. Finally, Vann had just returned from Saigon that day and may have been drinking. The night of the crash ARVN troops at a nearby firebase heard the helicopter pass by as it entered the pass. There were low clouds and intermittent rain showers in the area. Helicopters flying under the weather weren't visible on radar and there is a good chance that Ron didn't even know how to request radar flight following. I certainly didn't know how to and never did use it during my entire tour of duty flying in the same area in a UH-1. Nor did we file IFR flight plans. As far as I know there was no instrument approach at Kontum and I am sure I flew in and out of there a lot more than Ron did. The conclusion of the accident investigation team was that the helicopter flew into a rain shower in the dark and the pilot lost all reference to attitude. The OH-58A began a left descending spiral and after approximately 270 degrees of turn came flew into the hillside in the pass under power. The helicopter came down through trees and came to rest against the trunk of a tree where in exploded and burned.

The OH-58A did not have a VSI and the little attitude indicator it had was not that accurate. The purpose of this trip at night and in the rain was to deliver a cake to the ARVN Commanders and advisers to celebrate their recent victory over the NVA at Kontum. Ron had misgivings about going, but he went anyway. That was the kind of guy he was.

CPT Stephen E. James, Ret. <>
USA - Saturday, August 13, 2005 at 11:53:09 (PDT)

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