There are times in war when you
do in fact laugh and laugh hard and then
laugh again everytime you think about it. Flying up Dalat's south
pass was always good for one of those all day laughs, the kind that you
bring back to the barracks with you at day's end.
Dalat was way up in the high mountains and for most of us the main way up to Dalat was through the east pass. If the east pass was socked in that meant you had to go way around and come in through the south pass. For some reason, that only the mountains there know, the turbulence in the pass was always moderate plus a little. Most of the time It seemed as if ALL the wind in the Central Highlands funneled through that pass to get to the flat massive delta just below. The south pass was always a very bumpy ride.
For the folks reading this that are not familiar with turbulence ratings, the FAA has set forth very specific requirements for rating turbulence. I won't go into their rendition but what it boils down to is that in light turbulence you are saying to yourself, "it's getting bumpy". In moderate turbulence you're saying to yourself, "I hope the pilot can handle this". In severe turbulence you're saying to yourself, "Heck with the pilot, I hope this thing just stays together".
Just before entering the pass we would check that everything was secure and tell the passengers it will be getting a little bumpy. They would naturally then tighten their seat belts but, for the most part, they were more interested in the exceptionally splendid view going through the pass.
Since both the crew chief and door gunner were sitting in their little cubby holes on each side of the ship they naturally would prefer that we go up the pass with the doors closed. You had to feel for them, being so close to the edge with just a seat belt to hold them in. But, rank does have its privileges and going up the pass with the door stowed in the back position was a lot more fun from the pilot's point of view. Besides that, if someone threw up you sure wouldn't want the doors closed.
As we entered the pass and the turbulence began to pick up the passengers soon took notice. Seat belts were tightened even more and for some reason the passengers at both ends of the long rear seat tried to scoot in as far as they could. Their faces were starting to show concern.
Pilot wise, once you hit the turbulence about all you can do is loosen up on the controls a little, and let the ship sort of go with the flow. You can't really steer, about all you can do is keep her pointed in the right direction and try to keep her within 60 or so degrees of the intended course.
Once you're in it, about all you can do passenger wise is pray and hold on for dear life. The ship would be violently tossed at times and one would leave one's seat several times if it were not for the seat belts. The fact that the doors were open meant that, if your seat belt broke, you were out of there. That never happened but they didn't know that. For the two passengers at the end of the seats this was especially important. Rarely did I see the end passengers looking anywhere but at the person next to them. I do believe those flights spawned many a religious moment, passenger wise.
The bad turbulence lasted maybe 5 to 10 minutes at the most. The looks on the passenger's faces and their actions were truly something to behold. It was a ride unsurpassed by any modern day carnival ride, mainly because they were totally unprepared to be dangling at death's door with only a seat belt for security. For some it was a sign of the cross while for others it was a look at their white knuckles. I don't recall ever hearing a "Wow! Lets do that again" from anyone. I doubt that many would have made the flight in the first place if they knew what they would have been in for. In any case it surely was logged in as one of those memories of a lifetime for everyone who had to get to Dalat via the south pass.