THE SHOOTDOWN OF A BLACKCAT
CH-47C 68-16000 was assigned to the 213th Assault Support Helicopter Company, BlackCats, based in Phu Loi, Republic of Viet Nam (RVN).
Aircraft #6000 was shot down in Cambodia while supporting an ARVN Tank Battalion and a Company of ARVN Rangers on December 10, 1971, around 1745 hours. (This was one of the infamous "Add On’s")(An “add on” is a mission which is “added on” to your flight schedule after all other scheduled missions have been completed. It usually happens while on your way home and thinking about that beer) The ARVN had pressed into Cambodia on the highway going northwest from Tay Ninh. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) allowed them to move up the highway then proceeded to block their retreat prior to engagement. After engagement the ARVN were running out of ammunition, diesel fuel and ideas pretty much all at the same time. Aircraft 6000, carrying 14,000 lbs of POL (petroleum, oil & lubricants (diesel fuel)) was engaged by .51 cal machine guns while on approach to their LZ. The aircraft sustained multiple hits in the aft transmission area shooting out the utility hydraulic system and igniting the hydraulic fluid.
The approach was initiated from 5000 ft at an airspeed of 100kts and with a 20 degree sideslip to "get out of the sky fast" (muy riki tiki). After sustaining the hits the aircraft commanders mind was momentarily distracted which caused the approach angle to become too high. A 360 degree turn around the LZ at 300 ft was initiated. The aircraft commander had attempted to release the load during the decent by pushing the "pickle" button with his pinkie but was unsuccessful (no utility hydraulics). During the 360 degree turn, the flight engineer noticed the load was still attached while stepping over the hole as he was moving forward to station 120 to retrieve the second cabin fire extinguisher. He had exhausted the first fire extinguisher, located in the ramp area, on the "very large" fire without results. After noticing the load was still attached the flight engineer pulled the "D" ring on the cargo hook and as the aircraft lurched, the load fell away. He then continued forward. While reaching for the forward fire extinguisher........................see below!
During the final approach phase the aircraft commander determined he would have to come to a hover instead of the planned running landing. There were just enough trees in the LZ to prevent the running landing as the blades would have hit trees on both sides. As power was applied to bring the aircraft to a hover, the fire weakened magnesium transmission mounts failed and the aft transmission and rotor exited the aircraft. The aircraft commander estimates the nose high attitude generated by this event was between 75 and 85 degree’s and the altitude of the aircraft to be 50 feet when the ramp area impacted the ground thus preventing the aircraft from flipping onto its back (the fuselage is 58 feet long). Instead, the estimated 30kts of forward airspeed allowed the aircraft to continue forward after ground contact, slamming the sky facing fuselage down onto the ground. The aircraft bounced several feet back into the air. During the bounce the still spinning forward rotor inertia caused the cockpit area to rotate 120 degree's clockwise at the manufacturers splice located at station 120. The aircraft commander, sitting in the left seat, found himself (after saying adios to the world during the spin) hanging upside down on the right side of the aircraft and still conscious (look who’s still alive, ME!). The cockpit emergency exit doors had popped off on impact and the aircraft commander and pilot exited through the aircraft commander’s exit door. The pilot’s door was blocked by dirt (Cambodia). The degree of structural intrusion from the right side of the cockpit is unknown. It is known that the pilot’s windshield was intact as the pilot attempted to exit through it several times to no avail. Finally the pilot responded to the shouts of the aircraft commander who was already out of the aircraft and leaning back in through the exit door opening. As the pilot attempted to climb up and out, the aircraft commander grabbed his arm and “yanked” him out of the aircraft. The pilot was about 5’ 7’’ tall and 99 lbs soaking wet. He literally ‘flew’ out of the door opening and landed on his feet while still holding on to the aircraft commanders arm. After 10 hours of flight time, this ended the ‘first day’ of flying ‘combat missions’ in country for this pilot.
Moving around the nose to the left gunner’s window (the bottom of the window was at ground level) the aircraft commander noticed the aircraft was fully engulfed in flames from the main fuel filler cap, aft. The remaining three crew members were extracted from the gunners window and they all 'di di mowed' (ran fast) into the perimeter of the ARVN defenses. After spending the night the entire crew was extracted the next morning at 5am by Slicks. (UH-1's) Lift company and call sign unknown.
The Mad Dogs from the 240th Assault Helicopter Company, Bear Cat, RVN, had provided gun support during the approach and killed the gun which shot down the BlackCat. The rules of engagement at the time (confirmed from Bn HQ’s prior to the approach by the aircraft commander) were "Fire if Fired Upon".
The aircraft was totally destroyed and never recovered. All that was left was about 3 feet of the outboard forward rotors. The rest was ash. The disposition of the aft rotor system was never determined. No photos of the crash site exist.
Aircraft Commander: CW2 Bobby T. Crees (BlackCat 31)
Flight Engineer: SP5 Dennis Fiertag
Pilot: WO1, name unknown
Additionally, a second BlackCat, (Aircraft Commander was CW2 Gary Baginski), (tail number and additional crew members unknown) was circling ten miles southeast while waiting to make his approach. Upon observing the demise of a fellow BlackCat, Mr. Baginski (BlackCat 33) elected to return his 14,000 lbs of ammunition to Tay Ninh. Gary received a “1” for judgment on his next OER.
A day or two later an American Armored Company (designation unknown) fought its way up the same road and opened the rear door so the ARVN could escape back down the road from whence they came.
The day following that the U.S. Air Force airmailed Charlie multiple 2000 pound bombs from multiple B-52’s. It is yet to be determined the success of that attack but it seemed to take the wind out of Charlie’s sails at the time.