cloudy night, the unit commander summoned my Otter* aircraft crew to
his native-style quarters in our 18th Aviation Company’s hooch village, located
at the northeast section of the Nha Trang Air Base. It was mid-1962.
An emergency request had been received to take a packet of human blood to
Dalat. An ARVN soldier, stationed in Dalat had been severely wounded.
The blood delivery could make the difference in saving the injured
soldier’s life. The South Vietnamese Air Force unit stationed at the
base was unable to take the mission. Our unit commander agreed to fill
in. Keith Mowry was the crew chief, Louis Oliverio the pilot and I
was aircraft commander.
BY: Jack Serig, Sr.
There were two airfields at Dalat. A respectable,
long concrete field with an operations building/terminal and tower located
at the base of a mountain which held the town of Dalat in its upper region.
A much shorter grass strip was on a sloping, small plateau within the town
of Dalat on top of the mountain. Neither field had night lighting and
we were unable to determine from the emergency request at which field we
were to deliver the blood. My crew’s selection for this mission came about
for several reasons. We were available; and I had personally experienced
one daytime landing at each field. With the CO we jointly determined
that we could deliver the blood, barring adverse weather conditions.
In planning the mission several important items were discussed:
How to keep the blood cool; the overcast weather; flight planning; instrument
qualifications; airfield familiarization; NOTAM (notice to airmen)
check; and to whom the blood should be delivered. We estimated an engine-start
time to coordinate the blood’s delivery and purloined a container of ice
from the mess hall to keep it cool during the flight. Preliminary weather
reports indicated overcast conditions enroute. We should be able to
fly on-top after penetrating the cloud bank by climbing to altitude over
the South China Sea, back to the Nha Trang ADF (automatic direction finder)
beacon, then flying a prescribed direct route to Dalat with sufficient altitude
to clear the mountainous terrain. There were no NOTAM’s for Dalat.
We would land at the main, concrete runway at the base of the Dalat mountain.
If no one was there to meet us we would do our best to fly to the mountaintop
strip near Dalat city which had low overcast cloud cover on our takeoff.
The lifesaving blood was delivered to us and we took off
from Nha Trang, proceeding as planned. We initiated our approach from
the Dalat ADF, announcing our intentions on the prescribed radio frequencies
and broke out of the soup just east of the airport, above minimums.
There was one visible light, a small electric bulb, which gave a ghostly
appearance to the tower’s interior as we passed on a high recon, and one
small outside security light to the rear of the operations/passenger terminal.
The runway was not lighted. The field was in a narrow valley and there
were no landmarks other than the close mountain ranges to either side of
our direction of travel. We prepared for landing after circling the
field on the high recon and lined up on final about a half-mile out, landing
to the west. Upon touching down my peripheral vision was picking up blurry
objects both left and right. As the aircraft slowed down we realized
how fortunate we were to have stayed over the centerline. A few short
yards to our right and left were large piles of construction rock and sand
at close intervals along our path of travel. The runway was being readied
for repairs. We had specifically checked NOTAMS for Dalat prior to
our departure from Nha Trang. There were none. We had been lucky---so
We slowed on the main runway pulling off onto the available
parking apron before reaching the dimly lighted operations area. I
advised Louis to keep the engine running and to be ready for a quick
get-a-way as we had seen a person in black pajamas, conical hat and slung
weapon, come out of the shadows from the area behind the operations building.
“Was it a good guy or bad guy?”, I wondered. I dismounted and approached
him, simultaneously unloosening the strap to my .45 caliber pistol and checking
my jungle knife, building my courage. The pajama-clad figure watched me approach,
his rifle still slung. I took him for a good guy. As I got closer
I could see his smile. He turned out to be the airport’s sole night
security. I pantomimed “telephone”, smiling back. He pointed to a phone
The Vietnamese female operator put me through to the home
of the Senior MAAG (Military Assistance Advisor Group) advisor in Dalat city,
atop the mountain, a army lieutenant colonel whom I had flown to Dalat with
his family earlier in the year on my only other flight into Dalat.
He had remained at his home anticipating a call. His reception party
was at the dirt strip, on the plateaued mountaintop waiting for us.
I advised that we may not be able to get into that strip as the cloud cover
was below the mountain tops. “Could he send a party down to the main
airfield?” “No!”, he replied, “The Vietcong controlled the roads
at night and ambushes had been experienced before.” It was too dangerous
to send a land party. I responded that we would take
off, climb on top of the cloud cover and try to find a hole through he cloud
bank and search for the strip. He provided me with several radio frequencies
from his jeep radio so we could communicate. I advised him how to position
the several jeeps he had along the airstrip so we would have a source of
lighting if we were successful in breaking through the cloud cover. The colonel
concurred. Thanking the night security man with a few bows, I
re-entered the Otter hoping our luck would hold and reviewed in my mind just
how fortunate we had been so far: flying instruments at night with no radar
tracking nor any knowledge of other aircraft in our vicinity; landing exactly
where we needed to land to miss unbeknownst piles of construction materials;
and encountering a pajama-clad person who could have been on the wrong side.
So far, so good!
We were soon in the clouds again, climbing in orientation
with the direction of the valley to avoid collision with the known, close-by
mountains. We broke out on top, finally, heading in the direction of
Dalat city. We concentrated on searching for a break in the clouds
and spotted a lighted reflection coming from the city below. Checking
the horizon left to right we were again over the extensive cloud bank.
Suddenly and unexpectedly a small hole appeared exposing the cities lights.
We cut power and lowered the nose steeply, making it through the small tunnel
of hope, leveling off several hundred feet above the city. We radioed
the MAAG chief that we were over the town headed east toward the airstrip
and would flash our landing lights. He “Rogered!”, had his jeeps flash
their lights, and we responded, “Field in sight!”
The lighting provided by the jeeps was perfect.
There were also smudge pots along both sides of the runway, an
unexpected assist which helped us in setting up our low approach. We
completed our checklist and landed. Upon deplaning we turned the blood
over to a South Viet army surgeon. He bowed and we bowed in return
to his gesture of appreciation. There were nearly a hundred Vietnamese
smiling and waving plus the colonel and his small MAAG contingent.
Their reception was heartwarming and happy. There was clapping and
excitement. We were made to feel like brothers-in-arms---“BLOOD BROTHERS!
*11-place DeHavilland airplane with STOL (Short Take-Off/Landing capability)
This article was published in the LOGBOOK, a tri-annual publication
of the Army Otter-Caribou Association, July 1993 edition.