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[Image 1: Marine
Corps Historical Collection. Marines board one of the five
remaining Air Force helicopters for extraction from the fighting
in the eastern zone of Koh Tang. The extraction was completed
between 7730 and1800 when 2dLt Michael A. Cicere and his 20
Marines were recovered by Jolly Green 11.]

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event: "The helicopter did not actually sit on the ground because the hulk of
Knife 23 was sitting on the beach. Instead, the pilot skillfully hovered the
helicopter several feet off the ground just north of the original beach LZ.
It made the extraction difficult because the helicopter would see-saw up and
down. Only a few Marines at a time could board the helicopter's rear ramp in
this fashion as they timed their jumps to coincide with the downward motion
of the aircraft."66

Besides being the first extraction from Koh Tang, it also represented the first
successful entry into the eastern zone in nearly 12 hours. But it also had
its costs. During the recovery, in addition toJG 11's flight-ending hit, the
Air Force lost a second helicopter, JG 12, struck while checking for a wounded
Marine. Earlier flights had reported seeing a Marine holding onto part of
the wreckage of Knife 31. Jolly Green 12 tried to no avail to locate him,
even lowering its rescue device, called a jungle penetrator, a plumb-bob-like
affair on the end of the rescue hoist cable, to the wreckage. With no success
and drawing lead like a shooting gallery target. Jolly Green 12 diverted to
the Coral Sea with major battle damage and a wounded flight mechanic. This
casualty left only three helicopters (JG 43, JG 44, and Knife 51) to evacuate
more than 200 Marines still on Koh Tang!67

Once the evacuation of the eastern zone had been completed, the Air Force began the recovery of the Marines in the western zone. To remove the assault forces from the western beach "required six helicopter loads and two hours to complete."68

Again as in the recovery from the eastern zone, the decision to remove all of the Marines from Koh Tang before day's end was never shared with Lieutenant Colonel Austin. Neither he nor his immediate superior, Colonel Johnson, was ever informed of General Burns' decision. Lieutenant Colonel Austin was still waiting for word on the proposed time of evacuation when he heard helicopters approaching the zone. Since it was past sunset, the ground force commander suspected a resupply, but quickly learned that the helicopters had orders to extract them. The Pacific Air Force Command history reported that the official decision to evacuate occurred at 1717 on 15 May 1975.69 The Marines at Koh Tang recalled what happened after they spotted the first helicopter, "Shortly, thereafter, several additional helos appeared on the horizon

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