By Rick Lester
As a Charlie model driver I have many memories
of Dalat: 1. Field elevation 4731 feet. 2. hovering to the end of the
runway with no left pedal and a jeep following my aircraft ...transporting the
rockets we were kinda' hoping to take with us on a mission, and 3. sitting in my
aircraft holding for take off, on one of the hottest days I ever experienced in
Nam, while watching a USAF Caribou "PRACTICING" a single engine
approach...with a full cargo load of FUEL BLADDERS!. After the caribou slammed
into the runway, it bounced back into the air and "returned to earth"
in a left tumbling cartwheel, bouncing
through the perimeter barriers (read...trip flares, claymores, bunkers and concertina wire) shearing off both wings and breaking the fuselage in half. My crewchief, James Schaeffer, and I took off across the runway to help (hey...we didn't know what they were carrying...and besides, remember how brave we all used to be?...ok you can read...stupid we used to be!). We managed to climb on top of the aircraft, remove the rescue hatch and extract 3 dazed and bloodied Air Force pilots. As they clambered out, they pushed us out of the way and took off like greyhounds! Schaeffer and I, in the best traditions of the 48th, decided we could "save" what was left of their aircraft (after all...parts is parts), so we start fighting the fire. I noticed that the engine, on the now unattached starboard wing, was the primary source of the
fire so I aimed a fire extinguisher at it, pulled the discharge lever and caused a very hot engine to explode! The next thing I was aware of was Scheaffer beating me on the head with a seat cushion to trying to smother the flames on my smoldering head! He helped me up and we started back up the hill toward the runway...yes the fire "blew" itself out and... no the air force guys didn't come back to help us...they were at the edge of the runway shouting to us...in a tardy fashion...telling us what the aircraft's cargo was. The bad news for me was that my eyes were swollen shut for two days, the good news was that I was still around and I got to spend a few more days in Dalat...staying with the MACV advisors at Teddy Roosevelt's old hunting lodge and eating crab and asparagus soup in the Shanghai Restaurant! When we gave the air force pilots grief about their dumb move they tried to tell us that their engine was "shot out" on final, but everyone had heard their radio call about a simulated single engine approach. I always wondered how the SIP (we had found out HE was the third pilot) signed off that grade slip!
I'd sure like to visit Dalat again...like Thumper said it was the only place where I saw snow in Nam I'll bet there are a bunch of those village people you mentioned, who have an air force caribou tail number for an address!
Catch the wind!
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