I believe it was in my second
month with the 281st that I came the closest to
dying, thanks partially in part to the Wolf Pack. I am probably 95% sure
what happened that day did in fact happen but I was very young and new and
there is a slight chance that the guys were putting one over on Condry and
me. Condry was my AC and on this one I never once touched the controls, I
was just along for the ride. This is how I remember that day and I stand
corrected if indeed the rocket part of this did not happen.
It was around January of 68 and we were working Delta out of a tiny dirt airstrip west of Kontum called Play Zur Rang (English version), I think. It was just before dark and the insertion ship had just put in their team. I was flying Peter pilot with Condry as "rescue one". The team was put into an LZ that was about the size of a football field that was in a flat just under the crest of probably the highest mountain in the area. I though to myself, why would "Charlie" be way up here? It would have been one heck of a walk and there was nothing around except mountains. Wrong!!!
We weren't more than a mile or two out when the team called in for an "emergency extraction". As it turned out they went in on top of a company size or larger force of NVA that were camped out in the tree line. All hell was breaking lose down there and time was very critical. Condry immediately dropped out of formation and set up to go right in as soon as the insertion ship picked up his half and cleared the trees. For you non aviation types, a chopper can land with more of a load than it can take off with and that one could not takeoff from that spot with a full team. The team made it to the north end of the LZ and the insertion ship landed to the north but took off to the south. Condrey’s timing was perfect and just as they cleared the trees we went in. We picked up the last two guys and began our takeoff to the south as the guns opened up. Condry pulled in full power and with only two on board we were coming out of there like a bat-out-of-hell when we hear the insertion ship's warning. On their way out they saw a 50 cal. on a bunker hid in the tree line on the south side and Charlie had just got to it. A 50 caliber machine gun can easily shoot down a chopper.
We were at full power and really moving and just over half way out when both of us heard that then saw the bunker and the huge machine gun. Condry instantly yanked us into a super tight left turn that to this day is probably unmatched in aviation history. The "G" forces threw my head back hard against the seat and I found myself looking at ground out of my overhead window. Why I didn't black out from that I don't know. We had to have gone well over 90 degrees for me to see ground and choppers aren't suppose to be able to do that. Condry pulled her back around and we started out the other way. I could hear the Wolf Packs rockets hitting all over the place. We beat feet out there with a cyclic climb and were mighty glad to get out of that one.
We hadn't gone very far when the guns finished up and we got a call from one of them. The gunship AC, Rich I believe, asked Condry if he knew what has just happened. Condrey came right back and said we were probably the first helicopter ever to have gone upside down and recovered. Rich said something to the effect, " Yea, that too, but do you guys know when you made that turn you turned into the path of a set of rockets that had already been fired and that while you were upside down one of the rockets went straight through your open cargo compartment and blew up when it hit the ground"? Rich said it tore up his Peter pilot, he couldn't believe his eyes. Rich then said that he wish he had his 8 mm camera for that one.
Like I said prior, I never touched the controls but I do know for sure that I did indeed see ground out of that overhead window. As for the miracle rocket, that's up to the guns to verify. Though at that time I wasn't much in line with the Lord, I sure am glad he was on the controls for that one. If it did happen I'm sure the guns version is out there some where. That story should have been passed around for a long time. I hope their version comes out someday.
That's Condrey sitting in the little chair that he always brought with him to the field. Wherever he set that chair down a crowd would soon gather. Condrey had a certain mix of confidence, professionalism, and humor that acted like a magnet drawing in people. Deep inside I guess all us Peter Pilots hoped to be like him when our turn came around but right now it was best to keep quiet and listen and learn. I think he was born in a helicopter. Again, my thanks to Mary Ellen Nabors (Condrey's sister) for the use of this picture.
In Sept of 2014, 46 Years Later, I Found This On The 281st Gunship (Wolf Pack) Website
Credit Goes To Them, A Very Interesting Website.
From Don Ruskauff
StoryTime: January 1968
You may not have been too far off the mark with that story. Incidentally I think that our base for that operation was spelled Plei Djerang on the maps if for any reason someone wants to look it up. As I remember it was about 45 min - 1hr West of Kontum. I was flying C&C that day, above and to the West of you. When the insertion went haywire we moved over the area and saw the maneuver you describe. When I saw the rockets impact below you I remarked to the my co-pilot that there go the Wolf Pack again with superb fire suppression but I thought to my self "that's cutting it close". I can't confirm that a rocket went through your ship but I sure wouldn't argue with anyone who said it did. If my memory is correct (and I wouldn't swear to it) the SF team leader later reported that we had landed in in the NVA's mess area and interrupted their dinner. Tracers followed you out of the LZ until the Wolf Pack turned them off.
Don Ruskauff "Intruder 6" (2/68-7/68)