Chinook Crash 11/28/71
At 1115 hours, 28 Nov 1971, C Co, 159th Avn Bn, 101st Abn Div (ABL) received a mission from the Battalion Operations Center (BOC) to provide two aircraft for an administrative troop move from LZ 401 at Da Nang to Corregidor Pad at Camp Eagle. The company operations officer, assigned CW2 Jerald W. Carter and WOL Joseph J. Savick in CH-47, 68-15866 (Playtex 866) to take the DT-2 mission.
WOL Savick had just returned from a 32 day emergency leave on 27 november 1971 and was assigned to fly with CW2 Carter, the aircraft commander, in order to complete an AC currency check. Preflighted earlier that morning and departed Liftmaster Heliport at 0830 hours to start a mission at Mai Loc. CW2 Carter and WOL Savick flew the aircraft for the mission at Mai Loc. Upon arrival at Mai Loc, it was discovered that the loads were not ready so the aircraft returned to Liftmaster after refueling at Corregidor. Cpt Smith briefed CW2 Carter on the DT-2 mission and at 1230 hours on 28 Nov ’71 Playtex 866 with a crew of five departed Liftmaster Heliport for LZ 401 at Da Nang to begin the mission. The original PZ time for the mission had been 1200 hours but due to bad weather the mission was put on a hold status.
At approximately 1220 hours, the battalion flight operations officer, Cpt Robbins instructed “C” company operations to launch their aircraft and attempt the DT-2 mission. The weather at 1235 hours between Phu Bai and Da Nang was observed to be ceiling 600 broken, visibility five miles in light rain and fog. The weather for Phu Bai had been forecast to be intermittently 300 scattered, 800 overcast in light rain, fog and drizzle. Load of 29 PAX (Passengers) and departed for Corregidor at 1310 hours.
At 1328 hours 28 November 1971, Hue Approach Control recieved a called from Playtex 866 stating that he was declaring an emergency and that they were on the LKS 130 bearing. Attempts by Hue Approach Control to reestablish contact were unsuccessful. GP was notified by the 159th BOC of the emergency call from Playtex 866 and at 1350 hours the 101st Division was notified.
At 1410 hours 28 Nov ’71, a ramp check was initiated for the aircraft in the Phu Bai and Da Nang areas. Results of the ramp checks were negative. The 159th Avn Bn dispatched an OH-6 at 1340 hours to begin searching for the aircraft. At 1436 hours 28 Nov ’71, the 196th LIB [Light Infantry Brigade] at Da Nang dispatched two aircraft to begin the search and at 1440 hours the 11th CAG [Combat Aviation Group] was notified and put two aircraft on standby. At 1545 hours, recovery control center at Monkey Mountain, Da Nang, reported negative contact with the lost aircraft. The Coastal Surveillance Center at Da Nang was notified at 1600 hours and at 1620 hours 28 Nov ’71, RF/PF (Regional and Popular Forces) Units between the Hai Van Pass and Phu Bai were instructed to be on the look out for Playtex 866. The USS Epperson (DD-170 Destroyer) was directed to proceed to the area of the downed aircraft at 1920 hours and assume search pattern. Two VN Navy junks and two VN Navy coastal craft also assisted in the search and rescue effort. Search and rescue efforts were hampered for the next four days by low visibility cloud cover, high winds, and rough seas.
At 0840 hours 2 Dec ’71, an OH-6 pilot from the 2nd Bde Aviation section reported sighting wreckage at coordinates ZD 009-003 that appeared to be the lost CH-47 aircraft. Search elements were notified to discontinue search at 1200 hours and rescue operations continued to be hampered by bad weather. The elevation of the crash site was approximately 650 feet and throughout the search and rescue operation the crash site was shrouded by clouds.
At 1650 hours 2 Dec ’71, D Co 2/502 was airlifted from Camp Eagle to a position approximately 2500 meters east of the crash site. At 1030 hours, the accident investigation board with Graves Registration and EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) proceeded to the vicinity of the crash site by vehicle and locked up with D 2/502 at 1300 hours 2500 meters east of the crash site. The rescue party cut their way through the mountainous jungle terrain and arrived at the crash site at 0830 hours 5 Dec ’71. The aircraft was completely demolished and there were no site at 0830 hours 5 Dec ’71. The aircraft was completely demolished and there were no survivors. The aircraft was located in a creek bed approximately 650 feet up the side of a mountain. The aircraft had hit a 50 degree slope with great impact causing the fuel cells to rupture and a flash fire resulted.
The official investigation showed that the Chinook had taken a single hit, creating spalling, or loss of adhesion, causing it to fall apart.
This single disaster would go down in the history books as the second worst helicopter crash during all of Vietnam.
Thirty-four men were killed in the crash:
A Co, 1st Bn, 327th Inf Rgt
SP4 Joseph A Aubain, San Juan PR
PFC Vincent Bernal, Mitchell NE
PFC John H Hare, Louisville MS
SP4 Joel S Ivey, Southern Pines NC
SGT Terry G Kugler, Cullman AL
1LT Robert J Ladensack, Phoenix AZ
PFC George P Martin, Monterey Park CA
SP4 Alphonza Mason, Newark NJ
SGT Robert D Maynard, Blaine WA
PFC Steven J McDonald, Ketchum ID
CPT Martin K Niskanen, South Paris ME
SSG Daniel E Nye, Albany NY
SP4 James E Palmer, Halifax VA
SP4 Brinsley B Ramos, Washington DC
SP4 Ronald K Sweetland, Bloomingdale MI
PFC Gary D Wilson, Eureka CA
PFC Robert L Wynn, Chicago IL
C Co, 159th ASHB, 101st Abn Div
CWO Jerald W Carter, Daleville AL
CWO Joseph J Savick, Akron OH
SGT Michael A Crawford, Henryetta OK
PFC Willie J Oaks, Beattyville KY
SP4 Raymond A Trujillo, La Puente CA
HHC, 1st Bn, 327th Inf Rgt
SP5 Ronald D Carleton, El Monte CA
SP5 Billy R Coffey, Dallas TX
SSG Howard L Colbaugh, Atlanta GA
SP6 Will R Dantzler, Heidelberg MS
SP4 Richard E Garretson, Anderson IN
SP4 Archie T Lucy, Mobile AL
CPL Michael O Maybee, Fowler MI
SP4 Oscar Paulley, Louisville KY
SP5 Roy K Stewart, Bemus Point NY
SP4 William D Thompson, Auburndale FL
SSG Carl L Thornton, Gainesville GA
SP5 John E Windfelder, Philadelphia PA
I just found your website by accident, as I was doing some other research. I was the first one on the crash site. I am Sergeant J. L. Hodges, D Co. 2/502nd Infantry (aka, “Dog”, Radio Call Sign, ” Doc Holliday”). Can you tell me where you got this info on the crash? I would like to face this, after all these years. One of my best buddies from NCOC was on this chopper. We policed it up. Bad mission, but we were all proud to do it. They described this in the Stars and Stripes as a ” Herculean Effort”. No body knows just how bad it really was.
James L. Hodges (Lonewolf)
My name is Mike Carretero. I am a Vietnam Veteran and was with Alpha Co. and HHC from Jul ’70 thru Aug ’71. I was home stateside when I heard about the crash of the Chinook that killed so many from Alpha Co.
I am happy to see that you found the 327th web-site and sent your email to the 327th mail call. Several months ago I tried to find a web-site for the 502nd so that I might find someone who may have been with the unit that found the down Chinook.
I keep a list of all of the 1/327th vets that have visited this site and also other Vietnam related sites. I have also conversed with a couple of Vets who were on that Chinook but at the last minute were taken off by the first sergeant to pull other details before returning to Camp Eagle.
I will be glad to give you any additional information regarding the crash. I would also like to learn more about what happened and also why it took so long to find the crash site.
Here are some additional sites that contain information pertaining to the Chinook crash:
Thanks for the response on the crash. I will answer your question up front about finding the crash. It was the worst weather conditions I had ever seen. Fog was so low, all aircraft were grounded. Rain was intense, and it was cold in the mountains. They started a massive campaign to find the aircraft, assuming the worst, but the weather hampered everything. We also had no ground troops in that area to begin sweep patrols. They crashed in literally no-mans-land.
Also, the crash was hidden by thick vegetation, and could not be seen from the air. The spotter helicopter only saw a depression in the jungle on the side of this mountain. We were briefed at Camp Eagle, and deployed from there in CH47’s. There was a group of ARVN’s holding the LZ for us. We had to land at the bottom of the mountains because of the weather, and the roughness of the terrain. We had also been warned that one of the NVA units had been on patrol in that area. So our speculation going in, was that they might beat us to the crash site, and kill any survivors, and/or, booby-trap the bodies and wreckage. We also planned on them booby trapping and setting ambushes for us by any route that we may take to get there, which they did. We took a gamble that the depression in the jungle was in fact the crash site, and went in to 7 days of absolute hell. We moved as fast as we could, all of us hoping in our hearts that we would find the bird landed soft, and all would still be alive. Every man worked so damned hard to hurry and get there, it was our conversation, and charge, as we left Camp Eagle to find these brothers, and bring them home.
I can’t tell you how absolutely crushed and startled we were on the day we found the site. I felt like a lost dog standing in the middle lane of a crowded freeway. I know the looks of my men, and the absolute sorrow at that moment.
My squad stood in silence and reverence at the two bodies layed out at our feet. Young boys, not any older than we were. One, I stood and stared at, as I noticed his beard was just a few black hairs, here and there. Just a boy just like me and I couldn’t take my eyes off the grimace of shock, pain, and horror frozen on his face. It was like a halloween mask, but it was real. One hand was raised up, as if asking for help. I got my radio, and called the Captain of our unit to let him know we had located the crash, and that it didn’t look good. The Captain called back, and stated that the main element was coming forward. I had purposely refused to let my point man go with us, as he was newer in country, and I really needed my “Old Timers” with me.
The main element came forward as we began to clear the crash area for ambush and booby-traps, which we had already run into, and other enemy activities. We were frozen in fear, as we knew this was the horrible thing we had dreaded, and now the hard work lay at hand. Getting this cleaned up, and getting the dead on their way home, and getting all the living out alive seemed impossible at that point. An explosion above us rocked the dead silence of the jungle. The point man I left behind had walked point for the main element and stepped on another booby-trap. He was hit really bad, but was alive at medivac. I have not the space nor time to relate the recovery mission, but it was just plain horrible.
This mission will live in my memory forever. The only thing that I can say positive about it is in military terms, we accomplished our mission with some of the best soldiering I had ever witnessed – and we brought our comrades home. Mission accomplished.
Sorry I rambled on. I guess I just needed to spill a little. Thanks for your help, and interest, and thank you for your service to our wonderful country.
J. L. Hodges
Thank you for your response. I can only imagine what the scene looked like when your guys got there. We had a similar incident happen to Alpha (ABU) company on Christmas Eve also. We had 12 guys killed from a friendly fire incident when a 105 round landed in our 2nd platoons NDP. Nine guys were killed at the site and 3 guys died from their wounds later. Needless to say the ABU’s had their share of bad luck.
I was wondering if you were able recover all of the bodies or if some were burned beyond recognition. We had heard several stories that they may have been hit by an RPG, but don’t know if anyone really knows for sure. Also, you said you had a buddy that was on the chopper. Do you still remember his name. I know there was a Daniel Eugene Nye who was a Sergeant and also Robert Dee Maynard and Terry Gus Kugler.
We recovered all that was left of the crash. Most bags were just parts and fused mush. Some had been burned by the fire, some not. Because of the impact, some were just fused into unrecognizable pieces. The rain washed a lot away. There were only a few bodies in tact. The crash investigators thought that they got hit by an RPG, because there was evidence that they broke up in the air, before impact, and there was graphic evidence of that. They did not hit all in one piece. That’s why the conclusion of pilot error on the part of some of the investigators was totally false. Also the two crewmen that I found were up the hill @ 300 feet from the crash, still in tact, and had no flight gloves, or helmets on. They fell, one backward and one sideways, as if they were making their way up the hill to the top and fell over and died. I would have liked to have seen if they were shot by NVA patrols before we got there. I did not get to check further, as they were bagged by others. I do know that we all talked about some of the damage to the craft being from rifle fire.
The investigation was really hampered by the weather, the terrain was extremely steep and very, very dangerous area, combined with the total demolision of the craft itself. I believed, and still do, that they were flying low, and the NVA took advantage, and just openned up on them with small arms fire. I think that is what caused the spalling, and break up of the craft before impact into the mountain. I think that they had just enough time to declare an emergency when the rifle fire hit, and spalling began.
My buddies name was Robert Dee Maynard. He joined me, and James Walker in NCOC class 504 – ’71, at Fort Benning Georgia. We were like the 3 Muskateers. I had known James all my life, and we just met Dee at NCOC. Great guy, good soldier, good friend.
I am going to do a video on this operation, and the crash. I am going to document the whole story, once and for all.
Thanks for your correspondence, and I am very sorry about the friendly fire incident you had to endure. Those things are just really hard to deal with, no matter how many years go by. God’s blessings to their families, and to all of you, who knew them.
Sorry to hear you lost your buddy Robert Maynard. At the time that your Company was going to the crash site, did you know that Robert was in that craft? Do you have any pictures of Robert. If you have a scanned photo, if you will send it to me I will forward it to Dave Markham and they will post it on the 327th web- site. They do a good job of trying to post as many pictures as they can of the Vietnam Veterans on the web-site.
Also, if you need any help, I will be glad to provide any assistance that I can. I know there were at least three guys who were on the craft and were pulled off by the 1st Sergeant to pull other duties. Two of them have found the 327th and I have conversed with them often. One of them has also contacted the 1st Sergeant and his buddy that were taken off the craft. He has also contacted the family of Sgt Terry Kugler that was also killed on the Chinook. I think that it would be great that you document what happened. Incidents like this need to be documented for historical reasons.
Sorry for the delay in writing. I did not know that Dee Maynard was on the craft until about three years ago when I started checking things out. Someone from a helicopter website had e-mailed me the list of persons aboard. I was shocked to find that he was in that mess. I do not have any photos of him, as James Walker had the camera the day we took photos. I have not heard from him since NCOC. Dee would have a photo in the graduate book for NCOC class 504-71. I didn’t get one. Thanks again for all the help and support of our fallen
Both “Top” Clark & I have been trying to reach Mike for a long time. We used to call/mail each other every Xmas. I had not heard from him so began to call. The last # I have is: xxx-xxx-xxxx which says “disconnected”. His last addreess: 4842 West Ave L2 Quartz Hill 93536 does not come up as his for a telephone # per the operator. His work is his own business: The Upholestry Factory 44753 Sierra Hwy Lancaster CA 93534. He moved to Quartz Hill in 1996.
I will keep trying…I’m worried…He just dropped out of sight. On another note: 1st SGT James Clark, who was ABU “Top” 1971-1972, is in Durham NC Tele # xxx-xxx-xxxx. I have been down to see him twice. I have quite a bio on him for the 101st net. I have also talked to Jim Storrie 1970-71. And, finally found Brian Graham. Brian & I were on the Chinook that crashed into HV Pass 11-28- 1971. “Top” pulled us both off just as the ramp was raising. We pulled bunker guard instead of making the trip. I have also found the relatives of SGT Terry Kugler. Terry died on that ship. I knew him well. I spoke to his nephew, who was 7 years old when he died. I am making a Company trip to GA at the end of this month & am going to try to arrange to stop in Birmingham AL to see him & his family. If you reach Mike B. have his ass call me…OUT
John “Dutch” F. Lescher
UPDATE – I spoke to Injun on several occasions. It was great. I have some great photos of him in the bush & am sending them to him. I spoke to Top Clark the other day. He informed me that Cpt. Niskannen’s mother died. I spoke to his father about Martin. That was rough. He is very old & loves to here from people who knew Martin & served in Vietnam. I sent him a card with some photos of Martin. Mike, my collection of photos is unique. The only one better would be from Terry “Doc” Walker, if we can find him. I would like to get them all out to the viewing public-How do I do that? Just got some mail from a guy that lives in Mansfield OH that knew Cpt Niskanen & Major McDonald. He was TOC RTO. He was looking for info on the crash of Nov ’71. I have been collecting military uniforms & have a mini museum at our VFW. It has really gained the interest of folks coming in. All for now – DOUBLEDUTCH-OUT.
John “Dutch” F. Lescher
I remember Nov. 28, 1971 and think about it often. Myself and some others were supposed to be on that Chinook with those guys. We missed the T.O (take off) so they trucked us to Phu Bai in Duece-1/2’s (took some sniper fire on the way). I always thought they went down in the South China Sea. I just found out the exact story last mo. Just thought I’d send this.
I had the honor and privilege of taking CWO Carter and CWO Savick on their last helicopter flight on Dec 6th, 1971. I flew their remains from the crash site North of the Hai Van Pass to the Mortuary Pad at Da Nang. 34 American soldiers perished in the crash of the CH-47 Chinook they were piloting.
Mike Pate – Kingsman 15 B/101