The Caribou and Chinook: A Mid Air Collision

Posted on July 2, 2010

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Chinook  I can’t remember the date of the incident. All I know is it was after May 1968 and before the end of October 1968 ( Thanks Bruce, the date was October 3rd)  over Camp Evans in the High I Corps. This is a true story as I remember it. I am sure that there  are others who may remember it differently. I have asked my friend Bruce Huffman about the date. He kept very good records. When he tells me I will update this blog.    A lot of men got killed in Vietnam by the enemy. Some got killed by a mistake that another soldier made and some got killed because someone wasn’t doing their job. This story is because of the third reason. Although it is not a gory story it is graphic. This did not have to happen.

We had just finished eating lunch. We did not have a mission that day so after lunch we were just sitting around waiting for a mission to come in. The sky was blue with a few white fluffy clouds here and there. I was talking to a couple of guys when I  noticed their faces change from laughter to shock. I turned around. A Caribou is a medium size aircraft use for shuttling personnel and supplies from one base to another.  A Chinook is a very large helicopter use for the same purposes but to deliver the men and supplies to the field. Eleven hundred feet in the air on this sky blue day the two of them collided. The front set of blades from the Chinook cut through the window of the Caribou. The after action report said the blades from the Chinook decapitated the pilot, co-pilot and navigator . The Caribou did a 360 degree turn and then proceeded to head towards the ground in a belly landing. It took almost a 1/4 mile on the ground for the Caribou to come to a stop.  A few on board the Caribou survived for a short time but then passed on. Everyone else on board died instantly. These men were either going back to the base camp and then to a week of Rest and Relaxation (R&R) or from base camp they were going home for their time in Vietnam was up.

The chinook helicopter broke in half. On the helicopter was food going to the troops, much-anticipated mail but worst of all there were  men who going to join their unit. When the chinook broke in half, men began to fall to the ground. As they fell they were scratching and clawing trying to grab a hold of a particle of air or something to stop them from falling. Their screams were haunting. No one survived. All we could do was watch in horror. We understood the fear going through those mens minds. Two hundred feet is a long way.

On board each of these aircraft were soldiers whose jobs were to make sure something like this didn’t happen. They were the crew chiefs whose job was to keep watch for other aircraft coming into thier area. The Air Traffic Controller also didn’t do his job.  Was it that they just got to the point where they had made these take offs and landings so many times they didn’t take the time to make sure all was okay? Who knows. If  just one of them had been doing their job that day, the results would have been different.

Thanks to Bruce Huffman I add the following information. These are actual reports and eyewitness accounts:

Mid Air Collision at Camp Evans RVN October 3, 1968

Probably one of the greatest fears in Vietnam was to die on the way home. Time and again there was example after example of how you weren’t really safe until you heard the wheels thump into the wheel wells of the DC-8 Freedom Bird taking us home. What follows is our recollections of that day in 1968, the accident report and the list of all known KIAs from the National Archives for the First Cavalry Division.

It all started with:

Official Accident Summary:

THE US AIR FORCE C7-A DEPARTED CAMP EVANS AIRFIELD FROM RUNWAY 36. HIS LAST RADIO TRANSMISSION AFTER RECEIVING TOWER CLEARANCE WAS “ROLLING”. THIS AIRCRAFT WAS OBSERVED TO BREAK RIGHT PRIOR TO REACHING THE END OF THE RUNWAY. HE CONTINUED A CLIMBING TURN TO A HEADING OF APPROXIMATELY 130 DEGREES. THE CH-47 HELICOPTER HAD DEPARTED LZ NANCY ONLY A FEW MINUTES BEFORE.

IT WAS PROCEEDING SOUTH ALONG HIGHWAY QL-1, ON A HEADING OF 170 DEGREES, IN A SHALLOW DESCENT. THIS IS A SCHEDULED DAILY PASSENGER AND MAIL SHUTTLE AND WOULD HAVE ENTERED TRAFFIC ON A RIGHT BASE LEG FOR LANDING AT THE CAMP EVANS ASP PAD IS THE REGULAR STOP FOR THIS SHUTTLE AND IS LOCATED EAST OF THE CENTERLINE OF RUNWAY 36, APPROXIMATELY 1000 FEET SOUTH OF THE APPROACH END OF THAT RUNWAY.

HE HAD NOT YET CALLED THE TOWER FOR CLEARANCE, THOUGH HIS UHF RADIO WAS ON TOWER FREQUENCY. IT IS ESTIMATED THAT THE CH-47 WAS CRUISING AT APPROXIMATELY 95 TO 100 KNOTS. THE C7A WITH CLIMB POWER SHOULD HAVE BEEN AT ABOUT 105 KNOTS. THE TWO AIRCRAFT CONVERGED AT AN ALTITUDE OF APPROXIMATELY 1100 FEET AT A RELATIVE ANGLE OF APPROXIMATELY 40 DEGREES. THE COCKPIT SECTION OF THE C7-A CONTACTED THE REAR ROTOR OF THE HELICOPTER. THE C7-A HAD STARTED A RIGHT BANK, PROBABLY A LAST MINUTE ATTEMPT TO AVOID THE COLLISION. WHEN THE TWO AIRCRAFT COLLIDED, AT LEAST ONE OF THE HELICOPTER REAR ROTOR BLADES SLICED THROUGH THE COCKPIT SECTION OF THE AIRPLANE ON AN ANGLE FROM THE TOP OF THE COPILOTS WINDSHIELD DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PILOTS WINDSHIELD, KILLING BOTH PILOTS INSTANTLY, AND DESTROYING ALL ENGINE CONTROLS.
AT THE SAME TIME, ONE OF THE ROTOR BLADES, OR DEBRIS FROM THE COCKPIT STRUCK THE LEFT PROPELLER OF THE C7-A. ONE OF THE BLADES WAS SEVERED FROM THE PROPELLER, AND PASSED THROUGH BOTH SIDES OF THE FUSELAGE OF THE AIRPLANE. THE LEFT PROPELLER THEN SEPARATED FROM THE ENGINE AND FELL TO THE GROUND. THE C7-A MADE A STEEP DESCENDING RIGHT TURN AND STRUCK THE GROUND ON A HEADING OF 340 DEGREES. THE AIRCRAFT DISINTEGRATED, ALL PERSONNEL ABOARD PERISHED, THERE WAS NO FIRE. THE CH-47, AT THE MOMENT OF THE COLLISION LOST ALL OF ITS REAR MAIN ROTOR BLADES. ONCE THESE BLADES WERE BROKEN AND DISTORTED BY THE COLLISION, THEY CHOPPED INTO THE TOP OF THE HELICOPTERS FUSELAGE BEFORE FINALLY SEPARATING FROM THE HUB.

THEY DISLODGED TWO SECTIONS OF THE SYNCHRONIZER DRIVE SHAFT WHICH ALSO FELL TO THE GROUND. AT THIS TIME, BOTH ROTOR SYSTEMS COULD NOT PROVIDE ANY THRUST, AND THE HELICOPTER BECAME A FREE FALLING BODY. WHILE IT WAS TUMBLING TO EARTH, THE REAR ROTOR MAST AND PYLON SEPARATED FROM THE FUSELAGE AND LANDED 150 METERS SHORT OF THE FUSELAGE. THE FUSELAGE TUMBLED TO EARTH AND IMPACTED ON A HEADING OF APPROXIMATELY 120 DEGREES. IT LANDED ON ITS TOP LEFT SIDE IN A NOSE HIGH ATTITUDE, WITH NEAR ZERO FORWARD SPEED. IT EXPLODED ON IMPACT. TWO PERSONS FELL OUT OF THE HELICOPTER AS IT TUMBLED THROUGH THE AIR. THEY WERE FATALLY INJURED ON CONTACT WITH THE GROUND. THOSE REMAINING IN THE HELICOPTER DIED IN THE CRASH.
Information on U.S. Army helicopter tail number:      66-19041

Date:                                                                            681003

Incident number:                                                         681003141ACD

Accident case number:                                                            681003141

Total loss or fatality Accident

Unit:                                                                            A/ 228 Combat Support Aviation Battalion 1st Cavalry Division, Phu Bai Province

Number killed in accident:                                           11 Injured: 0 Passengers: 6

Crew Members:

AC W2  JOHNSON THOMAS EUGENE  KIA
P  W1  CONROY RONALD LEE      KIA

FE E4  COSTLEY LARRY L        KIA

CE E4  PIERCE JERRY LEE JR    KIA

G  E4  REESE DENNIS DEAN      KIA

Passengers from the aircraft accident list are:

CPT ALDERSON THOMAS EARL

SFC CLEMENTS DAWSON

SSG YOUNG WILLIAM RANDOLPH

PFC LUCIER JOHN WILLIAM

SSG WALLACE CHARLES JAMES

SP4 SEE MICHAEL DUANE

CPT Thomas E. Alderson was not a member of the 1st Air Cavand not listed in the National Archives list of all known losses – 1st  Cavalry Division.  The National Archives list of all known losses in the 1st  Cavalry Division on October 3, 1968 lists the following names. Each name has a code beside it which designates whether they were on the CH-47 or the C-7A. The military occupational specialty (MOS) is the numerical designation shown to the right of the name, (i.e. 11B20) is a lower ranking infantryman.

SFC Dawson Clement 31G40 Tactical Commo Chief CH-47

WO1 Ronald L. Conroy 062B CoPilot CH-47 CH-47

SP4 Larry L. Costley 67U20 CH-47 Crewmember CH-47

SP4 Donald J. Cramer Jr. 05B20 Comm. Specialist C-7A

SP4 David J. Dellangelo 11B20 Infantryman C-7A

SP5 David A. Disrud 4C20 Welder C-7A

SP5 Allen E. Gomes 94B20 Cook C-7A

SP5 Dale G. Granger 31E20 Field Radio Repairer C-7A

PFC Joe J. Hibbler 11B20 Infantryman C-7A

CW2 Thomas E. Johnson 062B Pilot CH 47 CH-47

PFC John W. Lucier 71F20 Postal Clerk CH-47

SP5 David B. Perreault 94B20 Cook C-7A

SP5 Jerry L. Pierce 67U20 CH 47 Crewmember CH-47

SP4 Dennis D. Reese 67A1P OH-6 Crew Chief CH-47

SP4 Michael D. See  91B20 Medic CH-47

PFC Robert D. Tomlinson 11B20 Infantryman C-7A

SSG Charles J. Wallace 67Y40 AH-1G Maint NCO CH-47

PFC Dennis A. Wirt 11B20 Infantryman  C-7A

SSG William R. Young 45B40 Small Arms Artillery Repairer CH-47

From the United States Air Force in Southeast Asia-Tactical Airlift, page 475:

Prior to 1968, three serious operational problems defied effective solution, all requiring better coordination between the U.S. Army and the Air Force in the field. First, flying officers of both services testified to the danger of midair collision near forward airstrips. This was the result of uncontrolled flying, incompatible radio equipment, and the absence of commonly accepted procedures for Army helicopter and Air Force transport operations at shared airheads. A midair collision between a Caribou and a Chinook near Camp Evans on October 3, 1968, cost twenty five lives and tragically illustrated the problem. Second, physical conditions at forward airstrips were sometimes unnecessarily dangerous. Hazards included bunkers or other obstacles near runways and taxi areas, uncontrolled vehicle and pedestrian traffic and landing surfaces needing improvement. Third, a better system for warning transport crews of firing by friendly artillery was needed.
The destruction of an Air Force Caribou by a 155MM shell while landing at Ha Thahn in August 1967 highlighted this problem.


Joe Potvin A/227th /1st Air Cav

I was sitting in POL hot refueling and watched the C7-A take off to the North from the active runway. We were facing north so I lost sight of the fixed wing after it made a hard right break which I’m sure kept it either inside of or over Hwy 1. The Air Force jocks thought the Evans area was pretty dangerous so they max performance takeoffs out of there to limit exposure.

The next thing I knew was my crew chief was at my door telling me he had just watched the C7 run into a Chinook, at about the same time the tower frequency lit up with calls for assistance from any helicopters in the area.

We buttoned up and headed for the crash site, you could see smoke coming from the CH-47 crash site but the C7 was harder to find. I landed next to the C7 wreckage ( a polite term meaning big ass hole in the rice paddy ) and did a quick walk around with my crew chief. There wasn’t a thing left. It was all buried in the rice paddy (no standing water but still wet). The biggest thing I saw was one of the mangled engines..

Chief and I looked at each other, went back to aircraft and left the area. Not a pleasant sight. By that time many more troops were arriving and it was clear we were only in the way. I don’t think any of us wanted to stay around and sift through the wreckage looking for parts.

 

Gene Lassiter, 228th /1st Air Cav, 68-69

I was already at BN HQ when this happened. I remember Lt. Col. Paquette, who commanded from June to December 1968, in a rage because the AF type who commanded the Caribou unit tried to blame the Hook for the crash. It turned out that the Caribou driver was horsing around and pulled a steep climb and turn immediately after take-off. If I remember right, the blade of the Hook took out the cockpit of the Caribou and it was thought that the plane was otherwise flyable, but of course had no hands “at the wheel”. I think there was a Longhorn on the Caribou going on R&R and his brother was at Evans watching the whole thing. I could be wrong about that. Still don’t remember the date. The 228th  flight surgeon was one of the first on the scene and I’ll never forget his face when he came back. We were all pretty sick.

Dave Greene B/227th /1st Air Cav

The mid-air between the hook and the caribou happened the day before I was to DEROS (from Evans to An Khe). I was watching the Caribou take off (’cause I was to ride it the next afternoon), when it turned through the downwind leg of traffic. It clipped the back rotor of the hook. It lost about 15-20 feet of wing, but the rotors probably went through the cockpit too. It pitched up to a stall and then nosed over straight down. The hook started to spin, throwing bodies out the back of the aircraft. God, what a horrible sight to witness such a tragedy.  I think 42 people were killed. It was hard to get on that plane the next day![1]

J. Bruce Huffman C/1/9th /1st Air Cav

I was standing just inside the RED tent, near Charlie Troop’s company street, when I was startled by the hideous sound of metal tearing and engines roaring; no longer under control.  There was immediate recognition of what had transpired without ever turning my head to look.  As I stepped out into the dusty street, I saw the severed pieces of the Chinook tumbling toward the earth, while a C7-A continued briefly to climb in a steep right bank streaming a mist of fuel behind it’s severed right wing.  The Chinooks aft pylon and ramp tumbled toward the earth; spewing leaflets from the ramp with each rotation.  The forward fuselage seemed to slump and hesitate, beneath the forward rotor, before it took a downward path and impacted the soft earth outside the southern perimeter with a heavy ‘thump’.

The Caribou stalled, toward its severed wing, and went into a violent nose down spinning spiral of one and a half rotations to the right before impacting the soft earth in the rice paddy vertically.  There was very little dirt in the air, the terrible sounds had ceased, and the moment took on a surreal atmosphere as the ‘Choi Hoi’ leaflets continued to drift down slowly toward a landscape strewn with the wreckage of what was, only moments earlier, two perfectly good aircraft filled with soldiers.
My recollection is that a Charlie Troop aircraft was in the immediate vicinity flown by a WO Darrel Vose and WO Gerome Bradley with a handful of Blue in the back.  They proceeded to the scene and immediately realized that there was nothing more that could be done and returned visibly shaken by their experience.

This was not to be my last experience with the terrible sights and sounds of a mid-air collision.  In early 1969, Charlie Company of the 227th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Division was to have a four ship mid-air above the north side of the airstrip at Phouc Vinh.  Phouc Vinh was under almost nightly NVA mortar or rocket attack and many aircraft had been damaged and rendered unserviceable in their revetments.  Some idiotic staff officer had convinced the Company Commander to take his aircraft to the safety of Ben Hoi, at the end of each flying day, and bring them back the following morning to reduce their exposure to damage and thus enable them to support the needs of the daily mission slate.

The unit commander insisted his exhausted and tired airman fly tight formations on their return to ‘look sharp’ as they returned to Phouc Vinh.  The inevitable became reality when the blades touched and four helicopters plummeted down and among what was once a French minefield surrounded by concertina wire.  Some of the badly damaged aircraft landed with only minor injuries but one aircraft, piloted by a friend WO Varney, burst into flames,  following the detonation of an anti-personnel mine, and severely injured its crew.


[1] David Greene lives today in Colorado, with his wife Patty, and remains an active member of the VHPA

Remember this as you start to drive your car while texting someone, fooling with the radio or after you have been drinking. It only takes a few seconds of your time to kill some innocent person.

Some years back, I was talking to some friends at a VFW. I told them about the Mid Air

Collison in 1968. Some guy setting at the table, said he was an Air Traffic Controller at Camp

Evans at the time and this never happened. I was with HQ (Div G-3), 1st Cav Div at the time.

This Collison has been on my mind ever since 1968. Hoping to run into this ‘A—–E again.

For some reason my mind keeps telling I knew one of the guys killed, but after being hit in

the head & neck on my second tour (Recon Platoon, 1/52nd Inf, 198th LIB, 23rd ID (Americal) 1970-71) and two auto accidents, my mind couldn’t tell you who it was. I have been working on

the 1:50,000 series maps for 16 years now and will have them in jpg up and running soon I

hope. In reading a lot of these documents, I found out Mid Air collisions happened a lot more

than we knew about. 3 Oct 1968 will always be in my mine.

Don Smith

My mother’s first husband was the Co-pilot of the CH-47. His name was Ronald Lee Conroy. They were from Topeka, KS. He left behind that daunting day, a widow and my oldest sister, who was 9 weeks old at the time of the crash. My mother remarried years later to another Vietnam Veteran (my father, Patrick McCarty from Wichita.) Every year on October 3, my mother still “grieves” in her own way. She remembers every detail vividly: from being notified, to receiving letters after he was buried. She remember the funeral Director telling her that his body was “unviewable” and how cold the steel coffin felt, under the flag. She remembers it was raining the day she went to the Post office to pick up the “Personal Property of the deceased.” She remembers asking God why He would take him so young, and leave her so alone… The article above blames the pilots, but from what she was told, the Air Traffic controller set the chaos in motion. The controller signaled for them to take off at the same time…from what she was told by the Army. There was nothing that the Pilots could do, once they were attached to each other, dislodging fuselages and slicing through each others cockpits.  I am not sure how I came across this website…but I am thankful I did. God bless you all, and God bless who served, past and present. KJ

I apologize and corrected my misstatement. Both air crafts had personnel whose duty was to watch and make sure that no other air craft came into their flight path. The Air traffic Controller failed to perform his duties completely. It was not the fault of the pilots nor co-pilots. Please  accept my apology.
Pat

This was a very real event in my life. My Uncle Larry  (Larry L. Costley) was killed on the Chinook. My Aunt Karen lived with us because she had a new baby, Larry jr. born on June 17th. He was 4 months old on the day of his dad’s funeral. I never forget anyone of the men who died that day and have taught my own children about how important these soldiers were. One of my favorite memories is Uncle Larry holding me the last Christmas he was home and alive. He had a leather jacket that was soft and worn.

Dawn

David Baugh writes:

I was one of the 545th Military Police that helped guard the one of the crash sites on October 3, 1968. The crash sites were just off highway One or QL-1 not far outside of Camp Evans. We were told by someone from grave registration I believe, that if we found any personal belonging to please turn them in because it would mean so much to their families because they would not be able to view any remains of their loved ones. One of us found a pearl handled pistol in good condition. I remember finding a watch. There were several twisted M-16 and several damaged helmets. An officer showed up on the scene and said he was a close friend of the Caribou pilot or co-pilot and the pistol was given to him. He said he would see that it was returned to the family.

I don’t want to get into any graphic details but it was a horrible site. The biggest piece of wreckage was the front section of the airplane. I never saw the wreckage of the Chinook because it was a short distance away from the Caribou. I remember picking up papers that were scattered around in the wet rice patty and reading where so of the men had extended their stay in order to get an early out. It upset me to read that thinking if they had only left when their tour was over they would still be alive.As I was looking around a snake swam through the shallow water beside my foot and scared the daylights out of me.

I never heard anyone place the blame on anyone. I know there was some words back and forth about who’s fault it was though. The Chinook was not taking off as some have said it was making an approach to land. I don’t know why they didn’t see one another because it was a beautiful clear day. Some things I guess we’ll never know. I know I really felt sad about what happened that day. I knew that many families back home would soon be getting the news they are dreaded to hear.

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