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Note: Mark sent me this letter of his first hand account of this incident that occured 20 Feb. 1971 accompanied by some photos he took and copies of newspaper articles.  I've done some minor editing and presented his story here. Scott

The Demise of Aircraft 61-2642

by Mark Sierzchulski

In January, 1971, I was assigned to the 463rd TAW as a C-130 flight line engine mechanic and was sent to Cam Ranh Bay for my second TDY to Detachment 2, 834th Air Division. The war was in the wind down stage, but the 834th was still hauling supplies to various areas in-country. Most missions were the "bladder bird" variety, but we also flew a few "Daisy Cutter" and med-evac missions.

In early February, we were told of a campaign that was to start soon up north and we would be sending aircraft and support personnel to Da Nang, which was to be the staging area for the operation. This turned out to be the Laos incursion - Lam Son 719/Operation Dewey Canyon 11.

After some delays, we finally made it to Da Nang in mid February and set up our support shop area in a corner of the Aerial Port squadron facilities. The support personnel contingent numbered between 70 and 90 men split up working twelve hour shifts. We brought two spare engines and two spare props with us, along with tires, avionics equipment, tools, etc. Finding room for us to bed down was a problem and we were scattered around in different barracks on the opposite side of the airfield from Gunfighter Village. We were trash hauler types and the jet jocks didn't want anything to do with us.

Flying was continuous from pre-dawn to the late evening, most missions consisting of troop transport, fuel, munitions and med-evac. We had a policy to have all line maintenance accomplished by 0200 hrs. The reasoning was that most rocket and mortar attacks occurred between 0200 and 0400 hours. The demand on the support troops to keep the aircraft mission ready was unbelievable. Spare parts became a concern, and there were times we "bartered" with the Marine Corps C-130 wing for starters and instruments.

One night, about a week after we arrived in Da Nang, the workload was heavier than normal. Aircraft 61-2642 was already loaded with munitions for the first mission in the morning. Repairs to number one and two engines were delayed while waiting for parts. The decision was made to off load 2642 and move the load to another aircraft. This gave us more time for repairs and engine maintenance run checks, while still trying to clear the line maintenance by 0200. We overshot that by 40 minutes, but all write-ups on all aircraft were cleared and we settled down in our shop area for some serious card playing and warm Cokes.

Roughly ten minutes into the game a thunderous explosion threw us all to the floor, followed in quick succession by at least a dozen more explosions. We were under a rocket attack. The air raid sirens were blaring and all power and lights were shut off. The floor rumbled from the impact of incoming rounds and none of us had our flack jackets or helmets. In fact, they were still locked up in a conex container behind the Aerial Port.

62-2642 It was over as fast as it started. We scrambled outside and found the fire department already on scene spraying foam on aircraft 2642. It sustained a direct hit in the APU compartment, forward of the left main gear, by a 122mm rocket. The explosion ripped off all of the port wing outboard of number two engine. The resulting fire was so intense that half the length of the prop blades on number two were melted off. The center section of the aircraft buckled in the main spar area and the weight of the aircraft caused it to tilt and lean to the right. Four other aircraft were damaged along with some ground power equipment, one of which was a power cart that also received a direct hit and left a crater in the ramp seven feet wide and three feet deep. Luckily, there were no injuries to anyone in our detachment, and only minor injuries elsewhere on base. Our "off the line by 0200" policy worked that night.

2642b.jpg (6071 bytes)Aircraft 61-2642 was parked on the ramp about 75 yards from the Aerial Port squadron facilities. Given the trajectory of the rocket that impacted the aircraft, had it fallen short there would have been many casualties. Also, if the munitions had still been loaded, damage would have been much more extensive.

During the next week, our "off duty time" was spent trying to salvage as much as possible from the other engines; we needed the spare parts. Eventually, a crane was brought in and the aircraft was dismantled in sections, loaded on a flatbed truck, and hauled away.

My friend, Spec.5 Randy Johnson, a Huey crew chief/gunner is one of only four GI's who are listed as MIA in Laos during Dewey Canyon 11 when their helicopter was shot down during an emergency re-supply mission roughly 20 miles inside Laos. The day of the shoot down was one day before the loss of 2642. Didn't know about that until much later after the war. I wear his POW/MIA bracelet.

There it is. Funny, 27 years after the fact, it's still rough thinking and talking about it. Looking at the old pictures and all really brought back a flood of memories. Not all of them bad, but very few good ones. We managed to make the most of a bad situation. Our hooch parties are what legends are made of !

I basically stayed in aviation, receiving my pilot's license in'76 and my A&P in'80. Earned my Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics from Parks College in'81. I've taught A&P courses, history of aviation courses to Civil Air Patrol cadets, worked on helicopters off shore, in the mountains and EMS, and am currently a maintenance inspector with Northwest Airlines. Still, the C-130B is the best aircraft I have ever had the privilege of being associated with.

Mark Sierzchulski

Scan of a related article from The Stars and Stripes: Feb. 25, 1973

Picture from Stars and Stripes of Acft 61-2642

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