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  Page 114 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    

THE ADVISORY AND COMBAT ASSISTANCE ERA, 1954-1964

alties. These were incurred during a salvage-rescue attempt in the mountains of northern II Corps. The incident began on 10 March as two Marine UH-34Ds attempted to insert a four-man American-Vietnamese ground rescue team into the jungle about 30 miles southwest of Quang Ngai. The team's assignment was to locate a U.S. Army OV-1 Mohawk (a twin-engine, turboprop, electronic reconnaissance aircraft manufactured by Grumman) which had crashed, and its pilot, who had parachuted into the jungle. The exact site of the accident had not been located but the general area was known to be a steep jungle-covered mountain, the elevation of which approached 5,000 feet. While attempting to lower search personnel into the jungle by means of a hoist, one of the helicopters lost power and crashed. The ARVN ranger who was on the hoist when the accident occurred was killed but the helicopter's crew managed to climb from the wreckage shortly before it erupted in flames. The copilot. Captain David N. Webster, was severly burned in the explosion.

Other Marine UH-34Ds from Da Nang joined in the rescue operation, refueling from the TAFDS at Quang Ngai for the flight into the mountains. The situation was complicated further when a second Marine helicopter experienced a power loss and crashed near the burned-out UH-34D hulk while attempting to land a rescue team composed of MABS-16 Marines. Fortunately, the aircraft did not burn and the only injury incurred in the crash was a sprained ankle, but the extremely steep and densely jungled terrain kept the Marines from reaching the site of the other downed helicopter. Bad weather and darkness prevented further efforts to extricate the various American and South Vietnamese personnel from the jungle that day. During the night Captain Webster died of injuries.

The next day, the Marines stripped a UH-34D of some 700 pounds of equipment so as to enable it to operate more efficiently at the extreme elevations in the vicinity of the crash sites. After carefully maneuvering the helicopter into a hovering position, the pilot was able to extract the survivors and the dead copilot from the site where the first UH-34D had crashed and burned. The survivors were flown to Quang Ngai. There the wounded were treated and later evacuated by U.S. Air Force transport to an American hospital at Nha Trang.

While these events were taking place, the Marines from the second downed helicopter, guided by search aircraft operating over the area, located and recovered the injured Army Mohawk pilot. This accomplished, the Marines hacked out a small clearing from which they were evacuated by another Marine helicopter.

The episode was not yet over, however, as the crashed OV-1 and its payload of advanced electronics equipment still had not been secured. Finally, an ARVN ranger company, which had joined the search, reached the remnants of the Mohawk and established security around the site while U.S. Army technicians were helilifted in to examine the debris. The Marine UH-34D, which had crashed nearby without burning and was damaged beyond repair, was cannibalized for usable parts and then destroyed.

On 13 March, with the search and rescue tasks completed, Marine helicopters began shuttling South Vietnamese rangers to Mang Buc, a nearby government outpost. During this phase of the mission the helicopters received fire from Viet Cong who had moved into positions near the rangers' perimeter. Three UH-34Ds delivered suppres-sive fire on the enemy with their door-mounted M-60 machine guns while the remaining helicopters picked up the troops in the landing zone. This was the first recorded instance of a Marine helicopter providing close air support in actual combat.

Other developments occurred in the early months of 1963 which either directly or indirectly affected the conduct of Marine helicopter operations. One was the improved coordination of intelligence gathering and usage among all South Vietnamese and American agencies within I Corps. This effort, which was essentially a concerted drive to streamline the collection and flow of intelligence information, was stimulated by a series of corps-wide intelligence seminars, the first of which was held in early February. Of special interest to the Marine aviators was the establishment of closer liaison between the Marine task element, U.S. Army Special Forces, and South Vietnamese units in the northern corps tactical zone. Closely related to the improvement of the overall intelligence situation was the acquisition of some new equipment by the SHUFLY Marines. In March the task element received two new model hand-held aerial cameras for use by the

 

 

 

Page 114 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)