In early May or late April, 1970, I was assigned to the 45th Medical Company (Air Ambulance), Long Binh South Vietnam. As a new aviator, WO1, I was put on a standby crew to provide "backhaul" medical assistance to the 1st Cavalry Div, located around the "Parrots Beak area in III Corps. The following is a story about one of my most memorable experiences while in Vietnam. It concerns the crew of Carl Boyln (Dustoff 30), WO1 Ronald Wells (copilot), Crewchief CC Abrams, and Glen Myline (Australian Medic):
Carl had been in country about a year and 4 months when I arrived. I understand that he flew slicks or something first and then extended to fly Dustoff. He went by the call sign Dustoff 30. When he called ground people, he called himself hirty, girty, dirty, thirty.
Carl and I were assigned a back haul mission with the Cav out of Quan Loi. The mission was to be on standby at Quan Loi and back haul any and all of their patients away from Quan Loi. Quan Loi was the military base and the town area was Loc Ninh/An Loc. I couldn't have been in country longer than a couple of weeks, certainly less than a month. We had an Australian Medic, Glen Myline, that was training with us, along with the normal crewchief, C.C. Abrams.
We had made several trips from Quan Loi to Long Binh with patients and returned. We generally had a patient or two to drop off at Phuc Vien enroute. I remember this because Carl got really pissed on one trip because a patient didn't get off when he was supposed to and about half way to Saigon he asked when we were going to land at Phuc Vien. He wasn't a patient, he was going on R&R or something. This meant another trip back to Phuc Vien. Carl got beside himself. This guy was riding in the aft compartment, called the "Hell Hole" on the right side. So to make the trip memorable for him, Carl got extremely low level, kicked the aircraft out of trim, blowing 120 knot air all over this guy, and began to fly up and down. I think he was seeing if he could make him throw up. After about 15 minutes, Carl decided this guy had had enough and we returned to Phuc Vien and dropped him off. He was a little wobbly, but was under his own power. He smiled and waved a thanks as he walked away. Carl just shook his head.
We had dodged this one really big thunder storm almost all day. It was slow moving and just kind of growing into what seemed to be at least 20 or 30 miles. We were just returning from Long Binh as dark began to set in. As we approached the Quan Loi airfield, Carl heard a mayday call "on Guard". I barely heard the call and hadn't paid any attention to it, but Carl did. A Cav Medevac was going in. During the mayday call, the Medevac said that he was just inside the Cambodian border, north of Bu Dop. Bu Dop was in the northwest corner of II Corps, near what was known as the "Parrots Beak". This would be some 20 miles or further from where we were. We had flown about 30 - 45 minutes already to get to Quan Loi. We were south and just east of the storm, which was between us and the the downed aircraft. By now, it was pitch black. I was flying and Carl was navigating and talking on the radio.
We turned northeast and got on the north side of the weather. Being as new as I was, I was almost no help at all. There was a tremendous amount of radio traffic; aircraft calling from everywhere, trying to figure out how they could help, and if somebody else was going to help. Carl took the controls. He did the talking and flying, while I tried to locate the aircraft by FM homing, since the rain, which was really pouring down, kept us from navigating. How we finally got to where the aircraft was is beyond me. Carl had used some tricks that I didn't know about, and I still don't know how we got there.
Carl had not seen the aircraft, but the pilot had seen us. He continued to talk to us. Carl was about 600 feet AGL, flying in heavy rain, heavy cloud cover, and total darkness, when he began to slow down. There literally wasn't a light in sight. Carl saw the flashing lights on the Huey before I did. After he saw the aircraft, he slowed to almost nothing and told the crew to help him with what the aircraft was doing. The rain was coming down now in sheets. The only reference Carl had was the aircraft lights; there were no other lights - ANYWHERE! The crew told him he was sliding left; he corrected; they told him he was going backwards, he corrected. This went on for what seemed an eternity. Finally, Carl flew the aircraft close enough he could make out the trees. Neither Carl nor I could see the trees before, but the crew could. As we got closer to the trees, the white lights off our aircraft made them visible even more in the total darkness. The tops of the trees were close to 300 feet tall. The Medevac aircraft had sucessfully autorotated almost straight down through 300 feet of trees landing upright with no visible damage. None that we could see, anyway.
Carl had been talking to the aircraft commander on the FM radio about what the conditions were, how many patients they had, etc. He also was navigating to the aircraft by FM homing. We routinely used homing for units in the field.
Carl hovered down into the hole. I noticed as we were landing that a big open area was over to our left about 30 meters. There was a problem with it though; it was full of tall stumps.
"Carl, there's a big open area over on the left." I said.
Carl never said anything, though I know he heard me. He elected to continue into the hole, after I told him of the open area.
There wasn't enough room to do anything but hover over the aircraft. At one point, we moved too far to one side and made contact with the bamboo, which in turn cut the blades badly for the first foot and one half. Carl continued to try and move the aircraft, with the crew talking to him. It was hopeless, we couldn't get down low enough to get to the roof. Carl had hoped to put one skid on the roof of the aircraft, allowing the people to step into ours.
"Tail coming right", Carl told the crew chief.
"Don't bring it over here, too close to the bushes", remarked the crew chief in an extremely calm voice.
Carl eased in right pedal to clear the bushes on the right and move the tail left.
"Hey, mate, don't bring it left!" voiced the austrailian medic. "It's already in the bushes!"
I could hear, for the first time ever, the tail rotor grinding in the little limbs and leaves of whatever it was in. I, again, was totally useless. Being this new, I had no idea what to do to help. Carl was having to hover through the chin bubble, since the rain and grass made looking through the windshield impossible. The decision was made. The patients, 7 of them, would have to climb on top of the downed aircraft and into ours. This meant all the way to the top of the main rotor head. This isn't easy in dry conditions, much less with rain and rotor wash, and injured. Carl, flying and talking, told the aircraft commander that the patients and the crew would have to climb. The aircraft commander rogered.
They did, though slowly. One by one, they reached our aircraft and were pulled in.
We got 7 patients on board. One patient had died or was dead when they picked him up. As the last patient got on the aircraft, Carl made another decision. We had been on the 20 minute fuel light for several minutes. The closest fuel would be Song Be, which was at least 10 minutes to the south. He told the crew that we were landing in the big open area that I had told him about and they would just have to run for it. The AC agreed and we hovered out of this 300 foot hole with 12 people (all U.S.) on board.
Carl maneuvered the aircraft into the open area. There was enough room for our aircraft, barely. It was full of shell holes and mud. All the while, I'm sitting in my seat, green as a newby can be, trying to keep up with what was going on, in case I might be of some help. I shined the searchlight into the tree line so the crew had a direction to run. As they approached the aircraft, some 30 yards away, one of them disappeared. He had fallen into a deep hole. The rest laid in the mud and pulled him from the hole. They then ran to the aircraft and got on. Rain was pouring like pouring it out of a bucket. Not another aircraft in sight. We were the only ones that could make it through the storm to get to this location. The UHF and VHF was loud with other aircraft inquiring about the condition of the Medevac Crew. It was unnerving listening to all the radio traffic.
We were getting lower and lower on fuel. Carl told me to monitor the instruments and be ready to fly on instruments when we cleared the trees, since the rain was so bad. I did as instructed. As I watched the gauges, the rotor rpm and N2 began to bleed as we departed. The normal procedure is for the pilot not flying to call off what the guages are reading. The torque gage read 50 PSI, which was maximum without overtorquing the aircraft. It didn't matter, we didn't have any more power anyway. I called it off:
"50 PSI, 6600 RPM."
"50 PSI, 6400 RPM."
"50 PSI, 6200 RPM."
"50 PSI, looking good."
It wouldn't do any good to tell him it was falling lower. We were committed to the departure having reached the top of the trees. There was no stopping or turning around. We had 16 people on board. Surely there was some compensation for the extra weight, since we were so low on fuel. As we got to the top of the trees, Carl, near exhaustion, said, "You got it." He had been doing literally everything for at least an hour. I took the controls. He said to milk the rpm back. Lower it some and it will come back slightly and then pull some back in. I did and it was slow though successfull. The old Huey will fly at 5800 rpm with 16 people though the book says that ain't the normal range.
Carl knew the direction to head to clear the rain. I didn't, because I didn't know where the hell we were.
Soon we cleared the rain and headed to Song Be. We were all nervous as hell. I was new, but I knew danger when I saw it. Had I had more experience, it would have only aided in scaring me more. Carl had done one hell of a job. To this day, I've never seen a more professional and expert example of flying an aircraft during an emergency. I tried more than once to use what I had seen that night.
We both lit up what seemed to be 5 or 6 cigarettes a piece. As we flew along, the aircraft commander and copilot both got up between our seats and were "high fiving" us. We arrived at Song Be and unloaded the patients and the crew to go into the medical station. We repositioned for fuel. The Medevac crew knew they had been in a bad spot. Having run out of fuel dodging the storm and having gone down in Cambodia without knowing exactly where they were was not the best of situations. They hugged our necks. Don't hug mine, I thought, I didn't do anything; hug Carl's.
We had, as with the Medevac's crew, left a dead U.S. in the aircraft. We were interoggated at length as to why we left the dead soldier. It was very clear to all of us why he had been left. It wasn't that we didn't want to get him, it was impossible. It was either save all the living and leave one dead, or lose some of the crew that we had rescued. Terrible decision to have to make, but one that is made every day in combat. I never heard of what happened to the dead soldier and whether he was recovered or not.
We returned to Long Binh. We had shined our searchlight on the ends of the blades and could tell there was stuff hanging out of the blades. The blades had about 30 hours each on them, almost brand new. When we got to Long Binh, Major Huey P. Lang came out, looked at the blades, and began to chew out Carl. "I ought to jerk your aircraft orders," he said. Carl told him in some other words that he could have them.
I never had to pull the exact same type of mission again, but did have to rely on what I had learned that day. The hovering, the reliance on the crew, the flying in heavy rain, the being cool when in a really bad situation, the hovering in extremely close proximity to other objects would all be part of my resume.
Thanks, Carl for the lesson on how to handle it.
It was also on this standby that Carl got po'd at one of the passengers. Whenever we left An Loc for Long Binh, we carried a large variety of patients - some litter, some walking. The walking were supposed to be "reefers" (referrals to some other medical facility). An Loc, Loc Ninh, was literally a "clearing station". Several times a day we carried patients to Song Be, Phuc Vien, Long Binh, and Saigon.
None of the patients, except the unconscious ones had tags to say where they were goiing. We went to each site, announced the location, and if they indicated they were supposed to get off, helped them off.
We went to each, and after Long Binh, we still had this one guy in the "hell hole" (rear passenger seat). He was the only one left on board. When we got to Saigon, he didn't get off. When asked if he wanted some help, he said he was going to Phuc Vien, one of the first stops.
Now, this guy didn't have any tag or apparent injuries. He didn't appear to be deaf or stupid (not totally). He just sat there with his duffle bag in his lap.
When the crew chief told Carl we had to go back to Phuc Vien and explained that this guy wasn't paying attention - Carl decided to give him a ride back to Phuc Vien.
Helicopters generally are smooth enough not to make folks sick - unless you yank them arund. The next 15 minutes were literally in the tree tops with violent turns - all the way to Phuc Vien. Carl also kept the aircraft out of trim putting a lot of air pressure in this guy's face, since the doors were open.
There couldn't have been anything left in his stomach. He did, however, gladly step off at Phuc Vien.
----- Ronnie Wells
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