On 17 March 1970, a UH-1H helicopter carrying the Americal Division
General , Major General Lloyd B. Ramsey, crashed into the mountains approximately seven miles
west of Chu Lai, Vietnam. The aircraft (serial number 68-16262) was from A Co., 123rd Combat
Aviation Battalion, and operated with the call sign Skater 62.
The command and control aircraft used by MG Ramsey departed LZ
Center (BT 052 250)
at about 1530 hours. Due to the broken cloud layer at 2,000 ft. indicated altitude, the aircraft
commander chose to climb through a hole in the clouds and fly by visual flight rules as they
headed toward Chu Lai. After being unable to find a hole to drop through, the pilot requested
radar assistance as he descended from 3,500 ft. to 1,500 ft. in altitude. Although they had
difficulty in establishing radio contact, radar contact was confirmed. The aircraft controllers at
Chu Lai lost both radar contact and radio communications contact with the aircraft.
The aircraft crashed shortly after 1600 hours at BS 429 994 on
Nui Hon Rom while on a
southwesterly heading of 240 degrees. The crash site was seven kilometers east-northeast of LZ
Pinapple (BS 371 966) and approximately thee miles due south of Hill 270 (BT 421 047).
Apparently both the pilot and the radar operator thought the aircraft was northeast of Chu Lai.
Instead, it was on a course that took it directly into the highest ridge of mountains approximately
seven miles west of the sprawling base. The aircraft struck several trees on a steep hillside while
angled slightly upward, broke apart on impact, rolled down the slope, and came to rest inverted.
Two of the six passengers died either in the crash or shortly thereafter. The survivors had to
endure approximately 18 hours of cold and wet weather after the crash while awaiting rescue.
At approximately 1630 hours, TACP Tam Ky, Vietnam, had monitored
a distress call:
“Skater 65[sic] approximately five miles northeast of LZ Pinapple/IFR and come up to some
mountain.” A survival radio (URC-10) carried by one of the crew members ultimately had enabled
them to establish contact. Heroic efforts were undertaken in hazardous conditions by MAJ
James, 71st Assault Helicopter Company, to reach the survivors.* After notification of a crash,
MAJ James had taken off from Chu Lai and had headed north. About three miles southeast of
Tam Ky, he heard the emergency signal. He immediately turned south and the signal became
stronger. As he passed a valley, the signal faded. He then turned and flew up the valley. By
making several passes through the many valleys and using a build and fade method of tracking, he
was able to determine the general location of the crash on the evening of 17 March 1970.
Because of the extremely bad weather at the crash scene and impending darkness, the rescue was
unable to proceed.
The ground rescue team was composed of soldiers from Co. C, 1st
Battalion 6th Infantry
under a CPT Trujillio. They were airlifted by CH-47 Chinook from LZ Fat City to a high, large
grassy area below the hillsides to be searched. Although known as the “golf course” for its
appearance from the air, the LZ was deceiving. The drop-off point was covered with razor-sharp
elephant grass standing over six feet tall. Once on the ground, the soldiers began their difficult
trek to the crash. The lead element for the rescue unit was a squad of soldiers from the 2nd
Platoon, Co. C, 1st Battalion 6th Infantry, led by SSG Allen McPherson.
After struggling all night upward through dense foliage and steep
terrain, the soldiers
finally reached the vicinity of the crash site. The vegetation was so thick that they had to hack
and chop their way through the undergrowth. When they were in the vicinity of their destination,
they had to fire their weapons into the air so they could be heard by the survivors in order to be
guided the final short distance. At first light, they were located just across a deep ravine from the
crash. Although only a short distance away, the final few meters took longer than expected.
Once the ground rescue team had pinpointed the site, an attempt
at rescuing the survivors
began. According to the official report, the battalion surgeon from 1st Battalion 6th Infantry was
lowered to the crash site on a jungle penetrator from a hovering aircraft. He administered first aid
and attempted to stabilize the injured crew and passengers. As the Jolly Green Giant Air Force
rescue helicopter hovered over the site, the soldiers from Co. C, 1st Battalion 6th Infantry moved
into position to provide local security. All six crash survivors, including MG Ramsey, eventually
were extracted to Chu Lai hospitals–two to 27th Surgical Hospital and the other four to 91st
Because they were all short of rations, those at the crash scene
ate the food contained in
the survival kit on the aircraft. Sometime later they were re-supplied with cases of C-rations
dropped from an OH-6A Light Observation Helicopter. Even that small, maneuverable helicopter
had to be guided to the scene by sound until it could slowly descend through the clouds to
establish visual contact with the soldiers on the ground.
Ironically, the general location of the crash could be seen on
a clear day from the bunkers
on the southwestern perimeter of the Chu Lai base. Marginal flying weather, poor radio
communications, and a possible mistaken radar identification had all combined with tragic results.
The survivors suffered injuries that included severe multiple fractures. Both LTC Robert J.
Thomas (VVM 12W Line 15) of Anaconda, Montana, and SP4 Ray Murphy (VVM 12W Line
14) of Connersville, Indiana were killed in the crash.
[By Wayne R. Johnston, 1st Bn 6th Inf 1970-71. This article was based
on the official accident
investigation report located in the National Archives II in College Park, MD, interviews with SSG
McPherson, and the author’s personal experience in Viet Nam]
* For an excellent discussion of MAJ James’ heroic efforts to locate
and rescue the survivors, see
The Rescue of Sabre 6 by Johnnie B. Hill on the ADVA Database 2000 CD @
MSWord/articles/sabre6.doc The story also is available on line.
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