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Aircraft Recovery Mission

It was mid-summer 1967. The 213th Black Cat operation received a call, aircraft down. The 213th was an Assault Support Helicopter Company stationed at PHU-LOI Vietnam. A UH-1 Huey was down by the Cambodian border. It was late in the day and the sun was setting. The crew of aircraft 021, a CH-47 Chinook was on standby for aircraft recovery. They were given the mission. After performing a quick preflight inspection and all the weapons and ammo was loaded and mounted, a five-man crew was on its way through the unfriendly sky to the PZ (pickup zone). On the way to the PZ, I knew what was on everyone's mind, night recovery. This was not our first one. If you have to do a recovery, you hope it isn't at night. A CH-47 Chinook is fifty-one feet long and twelve feet wide. Designed with six blades that has a span of sixty feet by one hundred feet and equipped with two engines, it is BIG and LOUD flying across the night skies. We also knew the Viet Cong would be expecting someone to retrieve the Wounded Bird!

I was the flight engineer. I took the right machine gun that night. McSween, our gunner, took the left M-60 machine gun. Ray, the crew chief, was lying on his steel vest peering down through the cargo hole, anticipating the hookup. The pilots were in radio contact with the Huey gun ships that were securing the pickup zone and rigging the downed helicopter. The call came back Black Cat 021 your package is ready for pick-up. We were coming in high over the PZ. You could see the ship on the ground lit up by the spotlights from the circling gun ships. The copper was located in a small clearing in the jungle. As the gun ships continued circling around us, giving us cover, we made our final approach over the downed aircraft. I was leaning out the door over the gun looking down as the pilot turned on the spotlight. Ray directed the pilot over the load for a quick hookup, it was a GO! We came UP and OUT of the PZ HOT, climbing as fast as we could. The blades were pounding the night air. I called to the pilot- "turn off the LIGHT! THE LIGHT!"...... Reply "I WILL!" We looked like a Holiday Inn floating across the night sky! Again the LIGHT!....... Reply- "WE'RE HIT! WE'VE BEEN HIT!"... The light goes out. I'm looking; I can see no tracers coming from the ground towards my side of the ship. The pilot still screams, "WE'VE BEEN HIT!" I felt a sudden RISE in the ship! The pilot "YELLED, "WE'VE LOST THE LOAD", WE'VE LOST THE LOAD. I looked down towards the ground hoping to see the UH-1 hit and burst into flames upon impact. BLOW! BLOW! No such luck. The night stayed black! If the aircraft would have blown up and burned there would be little left for (Charlie). We proceeded to climb to around three thousand feet, then leveled off. Ray and I walked around inside the ship, feeling the walls for vibrations and looking for hydraulic fluid. Everything seemed to be ok. The Question was, how many rounds were we hit by and where at? It seemed to be a long flight back home that night. We had to get this ship on safe ground. PHU LOI would never look so good!

Upon landing the pilots and crew inspected the aircraft for damage. We located where one round had pierced the lower aft section of the aircraft. The crew completed the post-flight inspection. We were lucky that night!
We topped off the evening by rehashing the night's events at the Black Cat Lounge, till last call. The next day, the talk around operations was the sling holding the UH-1 was shot out from under us. Last night I didn't notice any rigging on the cargo hook. Must have been a lucky shot??

Now when you look at the picture of the side of aircraft 021 you will count thirty-one recoveries. Well, now you know why there is a red X over aircraft recovery number 21. By the way for you former hookers- Ray, the crew chief, DIDN'T pull the pin! LOL!

This event was experienced by

SP/5 Mike (Sugar Bear) Brown
Flight Engineer AC/ 021
213th Assault Helicopter Co.

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