Monday, January 18, 2010

On the Fall of Saigon


I recently came across your website while looking at the VHPA museum's site. Just FYI as background info, I am a VHPA member who flew for the Army's 18th Avn Co. out of Can Tho in 72-73. (& I am still in the Army Reserve.)

Yet, it is a story which I have been relating for the past 34 years, regarding how I came to find one of the UH-1H's which I flew in the 18th, which was loaned to Air America for the ICCS mission, in South Korea in the spring of 1975. Many people have tried to call "B.S.!" on this but it is true. However, there are a few unanswered questions which are apparent that I hope your membership may be able to finally answer.

In May 75, I was a CW2 assigned to an Army unit in Uijongbu, South Korea. One day, the maintenance officer said he needed another pilot to go with him to our direct support (ds) unit in Pyongtech and I agreed to go. In passing, he mentioned on the trip down that the ds unit had recently received a UH-1H from Air America. My response was "that's impossible; Saigon fell almost a month ago and here we are in the ROK; how could that have taken place?"

When we got there, I went to a hanger and there it was; this Huey had just been repainted in Army olive drab green. However, it was still possible to see the silver and blue Air America paint behind several inspection panels. I was really amazed that the aircraft had it's Army historical logbook still intact; I looked in and verified that there were entries made in 72 while this ship was assigned to the 18th Avn Co., for MWO's (modification work orders) such as the installation of the IR suppressor kit (toilet bowl exhaust). About this time, one of the test pilots related to us his understanding of how this Huey had made it to South Korea.

Apparently, during the fall of Saigon, after making multiple lifts out to the evacuation fleet, the crew found itself running short of fuel. Instead of ditching, they spotted a civil freighter steaming around South Vietnam and elected to land on it, with no commo. The aircraft incurred zero damage and was allowed to stay in place but the ship's captain advised that his next port of call was to be Inchon, South Korea. The tale was then related to us that when the ship eventually arrived in Inchon, the Captain called the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and said something to the effect that "I have a US Government aircraft on my ship; please send someone ASAP to come and get it!"

I believe that the next step was for the Defense Attache to contact the DS unit, who in turn took a low-boy trailer to Inchon, got the aircraft & brought it back. A 100% inspection was conducted, it was re-painted, and placed back on the property book as "found on post" where it became an 8th Army float/replacement aircraft. When I got back to Uijongbu, I verified in my logbook that I had in fact flown the same aircraft in Can Tho.

After all these years, among many questions, I would love to find out who the Air America pilots were who landed on the freighter; what the exact circumstances of the landing were; how did they leave the freighter and who had the foresight to actually carry out the historical logbook?

Hope you find the above interesting & some of your members can perhaps elaborate more.

John M. Harris
VHPA Life Member #51
Cell: (714) 402-6358

although this story may perhaps look like a fairy tale, I am 100 % convinced that it is correct. Already in 1973 and 1974, Air America had returned a lot of their UH-1Hs to the US Army, but I don't think it was one of those aircraft, because the transfer of such an aircraft to a unit in South Korea would not have created such an alarm. Air America's entire evacuation fleet of UH-1Hs had been returned to the US Army and was still in the Philippines or on Guam in May 75, before being shipped to Corpus Christi TX in June / July 75, so it couldn't have been one of them either.
But you'll remember that 5 UH-1Hs had been seized by the South Vietnamese Military on 29 April 75; 2 of them are known to have crashed, but the remaining 3 were never seen again. A couple of years ago, one of those 3 stolen UH-1Hs, that is 70-15738, was reported to have been put into storage with AMARC at Davis-Monthan AFB. As that would have meant that this aircraft came from active service with the US Army (while I knew it had been stolen by SV military people), I didn't believe it and so, in my file, I added a "reportedly" ahead of that story. For it could have been an error for another aircraft with a similar serial.
Now, this story from John Harris, to whom I am very grateful for his report, gives the missing link in the chain, that is it explains how an Air America UH-1H stolen by the South Vietnamese military could return to the US Army. This morning I discovered that this very same aircraft has been sold from the scrap yard in the meantime and is now flying again as N831TB. Check the FAA at and you'll find it. So the FAA records also confirm that that very same aircraft has survived the chaos of 29 April 75 - what a wonderful story!
All the best from Germany

PS: Judy, I add a note to Mr.John M. Harris, because I am very grateful to him for his story.

Dear Mr. Harris,
thank you very much indeed for sending your story to the Air America Association. I am Joe Leeker, author of The aircraft of Air America (located at ) and The History of Air America (located at ). As you furnished the missing link in the history of Air America's UH-1H 70-15738, I'd like to add your story to those 2 files, if you agree with it. But as I live in Germany, the updated version will be on the web only in August 2010, when I'll go to Dallas for the next time - because the website is located at Dallas.
All the best from Germany
Dr. Joe Leeker

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