Incident Date 19670902 HMM-363 UH-34D 148056+ / YZ-66 - VMO-2 UH-1E 152426+ / VS-18 - Mid-air Collision during Night TAOR Patrol Mission
McGee IV, William James LCpl Gunner HMM-363 MAG-16 1967-09-02 (vvm 25E:088)
Gunther Jr., Clarence M Cpl Crew Chief HMM-363 MAG-16 1967-09-02 (vvm 25E:083)
Garner, Johnnie Linton Capt Pilot HMM-363 MAG-16 1967-09-02 (vvm 25E:083)
Elmore Jr., William H 1stLT Co-Pilot HMM-363 MAG-16 1967-09-02 (vvm 25E:082)
HMM-363 Squadron Chronology of 2 Sept 1967
Submitted by: N/A, 20030815
“At 0210H, YZ-66, BuNo 148056, sustained Alfa damage when involved in a mid-air collision with a UH-1E, BuNo 152426, of VMO-2 at AT 975756. The pilot, Captain J.L. Garner 087967, co-pilot, 1stLt. W.H. Elmore 092056, crew chief, Cpl. C.M. Gunther 2139387 and gunner, LCpl W.J. McGee 2215145, received Alfa injuries."
It was a night TAOR mission. This was one of the first "Split" TAOR'S. We usually had to fly all night but that was a little dangerous so they split it in to 4 hr shifts. I had flown the first shift and launched at 2000. There was a lot of activity down south and we found some sampans with 50 cals on them. Capt Garner and his crew relieved my crew and me at 2400.
At 0100 we took about 10 incoming 140 mm rockets. They hit to the north and west of Da Nang around C-med. That is where the mid-air took place; just a little south of C-med. Lt. Elmore lived in my hootch and the Admin Officer woke us up at 0200 looking for Lt. Elmore's locker. Of course I didn't want to ask what for. It is already a given.
Main rotor of the H-34 was torn off in the mid-air and it fell 2,000 ft. I had med-evac the next day and saw the wreckage. Bill Elmore already had one Purple Heart. I relieved Capt. Garner as Avionics Officer of 363 and knew all the crew very well. Went to the memorial and still have the memorial brochure.
After a night rocket attack by the enemy, many aircraft were launched in a typical reactionary gaggle. I was the HAC as a wingman in a flight of two. It was an extremely dark night and somewhere west of Da Nang, probably at about 2000 feet, we collided. My primary goal prior to impact was keeping my flight leader in sight. Ted Cieplik was my copilot. Ted saw it first, and I an instant later. The UH-34D came at us from about the 10 o'clock position. I do not recall observing any running lights. We instantly pulled up and to the right -- probably both of us on the controls. Then the impact.
The UH-34's rotors struck the underneath of our aircraft causing among other things loss of radio, some injury to the gunners and complete loss of tail rotor control. We made it back to Da Nang and made a spiraling semi-crash landing on a taxiway. Unfortunately the UH-34 suffered catastrophic failure and crashed, killing all aboard.
Over time memory fails us in many details, but the trip back to Da Nang - nursing a shuttering, not fully controlled aircraft with no communication, not knowing the extent of the damage or whether it would hang together sufficiently to allow a non-catastrophic landing probably will never be forgotten.
HMM-363 Squadron Chronology - 2 Sept 1967
“At 0210H, YZ-66, BuNo 148056, sustained Alfa damage when involved in a mid-air collision with a UH-1E, BuNo 152426, of VMO-2 at AT 975756. The pilot, Captain J.L. Garner 087967, co-pilot, 1stLt. W.H.Elmore 092056, crew chief, Cpl. C.M. Gunther 2139387 and gunner, LCpl W.J. McGee 2215145, received Alfa injuries."
First Hand Account
I had just returned to Vietnam after a one-month extension leave. This was my first night back in the air. It was another night TAOR hop over Da Nang. There had been incoming from the southwest that night.
Our two aircraft launched at about 0100. My aircraft was VS-18, flying wing to the lead bird at about 3000 ft. over by Hill 327 when the med-evac H-34 came out of our 10 o'clock level. It had no running lights illuminated. My pilot, Capt. Ted Cieplik, instinctively yanked the bird up and to the right just in time for the H-34 to crash into our belly and skids, knocking off our skids, the right rocket pod, and the shrapnel from his blades knocking out our tail rotor servo, the radios, the fuel cell, the gunner's M-60, severely damaging his hand. We had to have taken off his rotor head. The Master Caution panel lit up like a Christmas tree and the RPM warning lite & alarm came on. For approximately 15 - 20 seconds the bird flopped around the sky like a fish out of water before Capt. Cieplik regained some control. He immediately started a long, slow, left-hand, reduced-power descent to try to get us back to Marble Mountain airbase but we knew the bird wouldn't stay up that long.
Da Nang airbase was closer but it was closed at night. With no radios, he instructed the co-pilot to lower the landing light and by clicking the button on and off transmit a visual S-O-S to the tower in Morse code. We came over the end of the runway in a slight yaw but as soon as my pilot pulled pitch, the bird began to spin. He dumped the collective at about 20 feet from the ground and we "augured in" at about 60-80 kts. It was a "hard landing" to say the least as we spun around and around finally coming to a stop on a taxiway. We shut down all electrical power and bailed. I got the co-pilot out and Capt. Cieplik helped out my wounded gunner. I jettisoned the left hand rocket pod and rolled it away from the bird. There was a rapidly growing puddle of hydraulic fluid and fuel coming from under the bird. I was really worried about a fire but the Da Nang Crash Crew was on us "most riki-tik" and foamed everything.
It wasn't until we got back to Marble that we learned of the loss of the 34 crew. We were really lucky and the other crew was not. Our hearts were heavy, numb. I still feel for them - to this day. My heart goes out to their families for their loss. This mission is burned into my memory. I re-live it every once in a while without humor. I had other "bad" missions but none like this.
It was my one and only mission with Capt. Cieplik. I wanted to put him in for a DFC for his incredible skills, cool head, and airmanship but I got dinged the next day and shipped back to the States. I was told that he had been a 34 driver and just recently trained to be a Huey driver. No matter what, he saved us all.
Semper Fi, Brothers.
A gunship would accompany one of our birds on a TAOR sweep while the crew of the H-34 was looking for the flash of rockets leaving the tube. As I recall, the 34 was below and behind the Huey and the 34\'s blades struck the skids on the huey. I remember flying over to YZ-66 on the morning of the 2nd to remove the bodies. The Crew Chief and I had gone to school together in Memphis. The gunner had just gotten in country (he had gone to New Orleans out of Memphis). September 1st was his first day on flight pay in country.Submitted by: Mike Tripp, crew chief, HMM-363, 20030815
Captain Garner and crew were on medevac that night. They had just returned to “C” Med and were holding over it. The Huey was on the TAOR mission for Da Nang that night, and as usual, he was higher than his lead a/c and without lights (SOP). Neither saw the other and the collision occurred. I was awakened to take over night medevac that night. Submitted by Jerry Crutcher, Squadron MemberSubmitted by: Jerry Crutcher, Squadron Member, 20030815
The years have passed but it seems like only yesterday that we said our promises to each other at the New Orleans Airport. We had our hopes and our dreams. All of your friends called you Gunny. You looked so handsome in your tux as the best man at my brothers wedding. I remember how proud you were to be a Marine. A few letters from you after you arrived in Vietnam and then the call came. Gunny you will always be in my heart and I will never forget you.Submitted by: Patricia, Marriage plans with Clarence Gunther, 20050505
Capt Johnny Linton Garner, HMM-363
Jonny and I were very close friends while members of TBS Class 2-64. I just found out about his death. If anyone wants to hear them I have stories to tell about this great guy. I miss him.Submitted by: Capt Richard Cacek, none, 20130423