Incident Date 19671114 VMO-3 UH-1E 153757+ - Hostile Fire, Crash
Phelps, Ronald Joseph Cpl Crew Chief VMO-3 MAG-36 1967-11-14 (vvm 29E:097)
Kelsey, Milton George Capt Pilot VMO-3 MAG-36 1967-11-14 (vvm 29E:095)
Carter, Thomas Anthony Capt Co-Pilot VMO-3 MAG-36 1967-11-05 (vvm 29E:096)
Hochmuth, Bruno Arthur MajGen Passenger CG, 3rdMarDiv 1967-11-14 (vvm 29E:095)
Crabtree, Robert Andrew Maj Passenger HQCo/HQBn/3rdMarDiv 1967-11-05 (vvm 29E:094)
The UH-1E that Phelps was in crashed as a result of tail rotor failure although I can't say how it landed. It was in our hanger for a while and they went over our maintenance procedures with a fine tooth comb. Everyone was really paranoid for quite some time.
Our area was primarily the Phu Bai region; we also had a detachment in Khe Sanh that we rotated every two weeks or so. One of our duties was to ferry Gen Hochmuth around when and where he wanted to go. Ron and I were both crew chiefs and we all took turns on the Generals slick. From what I can remember we spent a week or two at a time on this duty. When it was my turn to come off the slick, Ron took over for me. It wasn’t too long after that when the crash occurred and they all were killed. I had purchased a new camera just about that time and it was my good fortune to take a picture of Ron in front of our squadron sign. I needn’t tell you how special that picture still is after all this time. See picture attached Submitted by R.T. Musante, VMO-3
Statement of Maj John A. Chancey
On 14 November 1967, I was assigned to fly admin chase for VMO-3 UH-1E. My mission number was #58, and was authorized by MAG-36 Frag Order number 14-21. My event number was Swift 4-1. I was briefed by the HMM-364 Operations Duty Officer on assigned frequencies, call signs and the nature of the mission, and was instructed to stand by until further notice. I received my aircraft assignment, preflighted it, warmed up the engine and returned to the Ready Room to await further word.
At approximately 0915 I eceived instructions from the ODO to launch to chase the UH-1E (Scarface 1-0 on a road recon down Highway #1 to the 124/13 miles from Phu Bai TACAN. I turned up on the assigned frequency and contacted Scarface 1-0. We joined up and proceeded to a bridge site at 124/13, where the UH-1E landed, but did not shut down. After about 5 minutes on the ground, during which I stayed at 1500 Feet, the UH-1E lifted and we returned to Phu Bai, landed and refueled. The UH-1E advised me that we had a VIP pickup at the 3rdMarDiv CG pad at 1045 and that we would turn up at 1040. I then proceeded to the HMM-364 flight line across the runway and shut down. I then changed aircraft because of an inoperative FM radio, preflighted again and turned up at 1040. I have no knowledge of the actions of the UH-1E pilot during this time because of our separate locations.
We established communications at 1040, the UH-1e called for a formation takeoff and we proceeded to the CG pad at 3rdMarDiv. I orbited overhead while the UH-1E landed and picked up General Hochmuth's party. WE then flew directly to the RVN hospital pad at Hue (about 10 minutes flight time) and shut down both aircraft for about 45 minutes. Both pilots and crew chief were with the UH-1E at this time, and I observed no other person approach the aircraft except my own copilot, 1stLt Darger.
The General's party arrived back at the aircraft about 1145 and we departed north along Highway #1 toward Dong Ha, our next destination. We leveled off just underneath the overcast at approximately 1500 feet and about 90 knots airspeed. About 5 minutes after takeoff, at 1150, the UH-1E yawed slightly right and left and at the same instant exploded in mid air. The explosion appeared to emanate from the center portion of the aircraft (engine and aft cabin area). The whole aircraft was immediately engulfed in a large fire ball and dense black smoke. The fuselage separated from the rotor, and fragments flew in all directions. The rotor appeared to remain intact and the burning fuselage fell away in a near vertical descent. Because oif the dense smoke and my evasive action to fly clear of the falling debris, I was unable to observe the maneuvers of the fuselage on the way down or the impact.
I transmitted the crash position (300/12 miles from Phu Bai) and the circumstances on Guard channel and then decended to see if I could detect any survivors or assist. The fuselage was still burning though it was almost completely submerged in a flooded rice paddy. We hovered around the wreckage for 5-10 minutes but found no evidence of survivors. The crew chief spotted a hardhat about 100 meters from the fuselage and I hovered with the helicopter's wheels in the water while he debarked and retrieved it, but he was unable to find any survivors in the vicinity. We then climbed back to altitude and transmitted our observations on Guard, We remained in the area until other aircraft were dispatched to relive us on station.
I observed no weapons fire at the time of the explosion, nor did I receive any fire while hovering around the crash scene.
I was stationed at Phu-Bai with HMM-163 getting ready to transport Base workers back to Hue the day Gen Hochmuth arrived "In Country". Except for the two full birds that picked him up from his flight at Phu-Bai, I was the first Marine to see him and he was not impressed.
I had just crawled out from under a truck I was working on and was not ready for an inspection. Gen Hochmuth stopped his jeep next to me and started chewing me a new one because of my appearance and no cap. He took my ID and then threatened to send me to the front lines as my appearance was deplorable.
I was thinking at the time, "Phu-Bai" was getting hit every few nights and I had eight holes in my tent from the last motor attack. It seemed like I was already near the front lines and I didn't want to leave my buddies, so I told him I preferred to remain with 163. He then called my CO and chewed him out for my appearance and I had to fill 8 sand bags for the officers club,"shit". This was about three weeks prior to this incident and it just highlighted the fact that there were no front lines in Viet Nam.
I was an Army pilot with the 190th AHC that was attached to MAG-16 after the grounding of the CH46's on 9/02/67. We set up our tents in front of MAG-16's officer's club. I too flew Gen. Hochmuth around this area one day in OCT 1967.
I had flown other VIPs before and after that flight but never did any remain in my memory as this flight did. I had always heard that his A/C crashed due to TAIL ROTOR failure but had never seen the STATEMENT of Maj. John Chanceyan. I have seen UH-1's with tail rotor failures, but never seen an A/C Explode in flight due to this type of failure. The day I flew the General around he insisted that we fly low up Hwy 1. When I tryed to fly around our own artillery fire I was ordered to fly through the live fire or I too would be a Grunt the next day. I took over control of the the A/C and prayed as we flew through our own artillery fire.
On my first stop on the coast close to the DMZ, after making my approach to the east, I made a right pedal turn so as to let the General exit my A/C [in front of] his welcoming party, The General's aid started shouting over the intercom to sit the A/C down immediately. At the same time, I heard this loud bang from the rear of the A/C. Thinking something has happened the General, I plant the skids in the sand. The General had thrown his helmet on the deck. His Aid informed me to never turn the A/C around again! Spartan 52.
Capt Milton George Kelsey, VMO-3
Cpl Ronald J. Phelps, VMO-3